Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — Just 6 percent of northbound Illini and 17 percent of southbound Saluki Amtrak trains that run between Chicago and Carbondale arrived on time last fiscal year, according to Amtrak’s Office of the Inspector General.

Amtrak blames most of its delays on the freight companies that own the railroads, which own the tracks but under current law are required to give Amtrak the right of way.

But Amtrak hasn’t been allowed to sue the freight railroads. Only the U.S. Department of Justice can, and it has only done so once in the past 40 years, according to Amtrak.

A new bill introduced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is designed to change that by giving Amtrak the authority to sue the freight railroads.

“By empowering Amtrak to hold the freight railroads accountable when they don’t follow the law, we can improve Amtrak on-time performance and save taxpayer dollars,” Durbin said. “For too long, we’ve seen on-time performance decline as a result of freight interference. The people of Illinois — and Amtrak riders nationwide — deserve assurance that they can arrive at their destination in a safe and timely manner.”

Amtrak President Richard Anderson praised the bill, saying “we look forward to working with Congress to advance its consideration.”

Across the country, Amtrak trains arrived on time 73 percent of the time in fiscal 2018, according to its inspector general’s report, which found that 60 percent of delays were due to freight interference.

Without the ability to enforce the law, Amtrak has instead resorted to publicly shaming the freight railroads.

Earlier this year, it graded each of them, giving Canadian National, which runs through Champaign County, a D-.

Canadian National referred The News-Gazette to the Association of American Railroads, which did not immediately return a request for comment.