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Monday, February 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bronx Bridge’s Fix-Up Isn’t Amtrak’s Problem

(CN) - Amtrak is not responsible for the maintenance of a 113-year-old bridge in the Bronx, the D.C. Circuit ruled, rejecting New York City's $25 million demand.

The city had sought such reimbursement after shelling out for the rehabilitation of the Shore Road Circle Bridge, which crosses train tracks in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx

It claimed that the National Railroad Passenger Corp. - better known as Amtrak - faces an obligation to maintain the bridge in perpetuity because of a 1906 deed that transferred title of land supporting the bridge to Amtrak's predecessor.

Amtrak countered that it received the land supporting the bridge pursuant to a special conveyance order under the Rail Act of 1980 after the land's prior owner declared bankruptcy. The order specifically stated that the land was transferred "free and clear of any liens or encumbrances."

A federal judge found that the Rail Act of 1980 ended the railroad's obligation to maintain the bridge, and the D.C. Circuit affirmed Friday.

New York City's "premise is quite wrong; the Rail Act uses different language than the Bankruptcy Code," Judge Laurence Silberman wrote for a three-judge panel.

Whereas the bankruptcy code allows a trustee to sell a debtor's property interests to satisfy a lienholder, "the Rail Act simply does not provide the same protection for a holder of a property interest," the ruling states.

The city also cannot recoup the $1.16 million it paid Amtrak to remove electrical wiring from the bridge under an unjust-enrichment claim, the court said.

"The record shows that the electrical equipment actually occupied Amtrak's air space and was not on or in city property, and that the insulators that touched the bridge were placed there, not pursuant to a special privilege granted by the city, but for the city's benefit," Silberman wrote.

The city raised a restitution claim on appeal, supported by the lower court's finding that Amtrak had a duty to remove the electrical equipment free of charge under the "public utility" rule.

Since the city never brought this contradiction to the District Court's attention, however, that omission deprives the appeals court of jurisdiction, according to the ruling.

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