Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Adios "Sunset East"

TRAINS Newswire reports that effective May 7, a new schedule for both Eastward and Westward Amtrak Trains 1 & 2, Sunset Limited, will be adapted. Additionally Westward #1 will adopt new days of operation, which will enable one set of equipment presently assigned to be released. Here is a link to the material at Newswire. In order to access, a subscription to a rail related Kalmbach publication is required.

The reason why this days of operation change had not been made earlier is because there was the "phantom" Sunset East "temporarily suspended". Therfore the train had to be scheduled so that the "equipment" could "run" to Orlando and be "turned" for a "next day' departure.

However, somebody in the Amtrak Legal Department apparently has decided it is now safe to go in the water. Possibly there is an applicable Statute of Limitations, but I believe the now apparent discontinuance of Sunset East without required 180 Day Notice under ARAA '97 was simply the Amtrak Legal Department determing that "nobody cares" outside of the advocacy community.

After Katrina, Amtrak likely found they were confronted with a dilemma regarding "a golden opportunity to be rid of something in all likelihood they never wanted in the first place". To what extent will the law be "bent" or do we annul with the intent as we did in the case of disruptions with other trains such as the Builder, Zephyr, and Starlight - all services where to not have them, the political repercussions would be severe, so therefore we want them.

But failing some remote possibility that Amtrak will be required to restore the service, Amtrak has successfully discontinued a train without the Notice; management should be pleased to know they now have that prerogative.

With the upcoming days of operation change, as well as the release of the equipment set assigned to the "Sunset East", Amtrak will be in a hard to defend position that they have done anything other than discontinue service over the route. Violation of ARAA '97 notwithstanding, Amtrak appears confident they can deflect any possibly challenges from advocates, and that they will not be forced into restoring service - and maybe for longer than 181 days as a form of "punishment". It will be interesting to see how the Sunset route is presented in the next timetable.

Unless it can be established how Amtrak complied with 180 Day Notice provisions of ARAA '97, or that provisions somehow "sunset" after a given period of time, I can only hold that Amtrak violated the law. However, contrary to thoughts likely held by the advocacy community, I'm not about to suggest Amtrak be sanctioned for this apparent violation. This was a route outside the Basic System set forth under RPSA '70, that was inaugurated in response to some political leaning, and never "pulled its weight" with regards to patronage.

All told, Amtrak management appears to have won a victory in successfully discontinuing a service without Notice. To what extent this victory will serve as precedent elsewhere remains to be seen. It appears that the coffin has now been nailed.