Amtrak Loses Court Battle

BoxcabE50 Jul 11, 2013

  1. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Received the following from a friend:

    "Amtrak barred from regulating freight railroads re: time delays

    Thanks to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Amtrak lost its power to assess blame when its trains are delayed and to have a say in whether freight railroads causing those holdups are penalized. The Appeals Court of Appeals has ruled the taxpayer-supported service is a private company to which Congress improperly gave regulatory power over freight railroads such as the UP and BNSF.

    The court threw out a law passed to enforce a requirement, dating to Amtrak's creation in 1970, that freight trains give priority to passenger trains on tracks they share, which they do in most of the U.S. "If freight railroads perceive they no longer face penalties for giving freight trains priority over passenger trains, and the passenger-train delays are extensive, the result could be a de-facto imploding of Amtrak," said Frank Wilner, a transportation economist and author of "Amtrak: Past, Present and Future," published last year.

    The case involves on-time performance standards and enforcement mechanisms established under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. Amtrak, based in Washington, tracks and publishes, in monthly reports on its website, how many minutes its trains are delayed each month and assigns causes. It cited freight-train interference as the most common type of delay over the past 12 months.

    During April, it said, such interference was responsible for about 55,000 minutes of delays, or 14.9 percent of the total. Canadian National Railway was held responsible for the most delays in the 12 months ending in April.

    If Amtrak trains don't meet the on-time performance standards set by the company and its regulators, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board can investigate the railroads whose tracks they use and assess damages.

    The court ruled the law unconstitutional for giving Amtrak a say in setting the metrics that could lead to penalties. U.S. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown said that was akin to the government giving General Motors Co. (GM) the power to regulate automobile manufacturers. "It appears that the current metrics and standards are invalid until Congress rewrites the law," said Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, a Washington-based advocacy group, in an interview."

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