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If Twitter implements this strategy, among all the other relevant categories important to the Twitterverse such as Beyoncé, the President of the United States, and NFL players and the fan bases that love/hate them, Twitter will need to find a special place to put the Twitter feud currently ongoing between Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.
In an attempt to seem technologically contemporary, Amtrak tweets about its passenger train delays under the thread @AmtrakAlerts. The tweets contain the train name and number, date and point of departure, and the delay and cause. Naming of names in Amtrak’s tweets got Norfolk Southern’s attention—a specific tweet that tagged NS for prioritizing freight trains and delaying an Amtrak train six hours.
Norfolk Southern, it turns out, did not appreciate being called out by Amtrak for prioritizing a freight train. Using good corporate scare tactics, NS dutifully wrote a kind of cease and desist letter to Amtrak, threatening further action if Amtrak did not stop the Twittersphere disparagement.
Amtrak is addressing a chronic passenger train problem. Anyone who has ridden Amtrak, Metra, Sound Transit or Metrolink knows that the difficulties of moving freight and passenger trains over the same tracks have been around for a long time. In the first crude by rail heyday (circa 2014), news stories of passenger trains sitting outside of Chicago’s congested rail hub while CBR trains made their way through the system were readily available.
Unfortunately for Norfolk Southern, Amtrak is correct to expect a better level of prioritization for passenger trains. Precision Scheduled Railroading notwithstanding, passengers likely have more reason to arrive on time than most freight. Unfortunately for Amtrak’s riders, the wrangling over who should, could, would or might impact each other’s traffic will continue for some time. (Amtrak and the Association of American Railroads have been battling the setting of new standards for passenger train prioritization in federal court for more than a decade and are now seeking an audience before the Supreme Court.)
Considering the current Precision Scheduled Railroading momentum shift, it is not surprising to see that Amtrak’s agenda and a freight railroad’s agenda are moving further apart. Amtrak’s response to being delayed by a freight train is to pull a Han Solo and say, “It’s not my fault.”
Therein lies the problem with Amtrak’s solution: While tweeting out a problem and cause outside of Amtrak’s control may give the impression that Amtrak is standing up for itself, the impact of the tweeting policy is quite the opposite. The lack of available resolution to the problem (a delayed train) instead has Amtrak abdicating responsibility for a problem long plaguing its passengers. The freedom from responsibility Amtrak seeks is illusory. Tweeting out a problem neither frees Amtrak from its obligations to its passengers nor gives Amtrak the upper hand vs. big brother Class I’s.
This article first appeared on www.railwayage.com
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