Bronx Bridge’s Upkeep Won’t Fall to Amtrak

     (CN) – Amtrak is not responsible for the maintenance of a 113-year-old bridge in the Bronx, a federal judge ruled.
     New York City had tried to claim that the National Railroad Passenger Corp. – better known as Amtrak – is liable for the rehabilitation of the Shore Road Circle Bridge that crosses train tracks in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx. It said a 1906 deed that transferred title of land supporting the bridge to Amtrak obligates the railroad to maintain the bridge in perpetuity.
     The parties disagreed about whether that agreement was an affirmative covenant running with the land or merely a contract.
     “But however the agreement is characterized, it did not pass to Amtrak in the national rail reorganization that brought that railroad into being,” U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled. “Nor is Amtrak responsible for maintaining the bridge in the absence of any agreement.”
     The city tried to argue, in the alternative, that Amtrak must at least cover the cost of removing the railroad’s electrical equipment from the underside of the bridge so that the city could repair it.
     After paying Amtrak to perform that work, the city sought restitution.
     Contreras rejected that notion as well. “No reasonable jury could find that the removal of Amtrak’s electrical equipment was immediately necessary to protect the public safety, and indemnification does not fit the facts of this case,” he wrote.
     In use since 1849, the bridge carries a public road over train tracks.
     New York City conveyed some of its land running alongside the bridge to the Harlem River and Port Chester Railroad Co. in 1906, “upon the express condition that the said railroad company, its successors, lessees and assigns perform” a number of “covenants and conditions” regarding the construction and maintenance of the bridge.
     The agreement stipulated that the land would be forfeited and reverted to the city of New York if the railroad company did not “fulfill each and every” condition. The railroad company then built the bridge 18 feet above the rails.
     In 1927, the Harlem River and Port Chester Railroad Co. merged into the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, which declared bankruptcy and had its assets sold to the Penn Central Transportation Co. in 1968.
     As Congress set out to address the so-called “regional rail crisis” of failing railroads in the northeast in the early 1970s with the Rail Act, it ordered conveyance of properties “free and clear of any liens or encumbrances.”
     The Rail Act created Conrail, and created a special court to order the conveyance and resolve disputes related to the organization.
     That court issued a conveyance order pursuant to which the Penn Central bankruptcy trustees deeded to Conrail all the Bronx real property associated with the railroad lines running under the Shore Road Circle Bridge.
     A bill of sale transferred to Conrail all of Penn Central’s rights to that sale. Conrail sold the property to Amtrak in 1976.
     When New York City sought to rehabilitate the bridge in 1997, and the parties agreed in 2003 that Amtrak would remove structures attached the underside of the bridge that provided electricity to trains and insulated the bridge. Amtrak erected poles to provide electricity to its trains in 2004 and 2005.
     The lawsuit at issue now stems from one the city filed three years earlier in Manhattan.
     A federal judge there had found that the Rail Act gave jurisdiction to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with the abolishment of the special court in 1997.
     Contreras ultimately refused to decide whether the 1906 deed was a contract or an affirmative covenant because “it does not presently obligate Amtrak.”
     The railroad bankruptcies and the Regional Rail Reorganization Act absolved Amtrak of contractual liability arising from agreements made by its predecessors, according to the ruling.
     As for the city’s claim that Amtrak owns the bridge and is obligated to maintain it, Contreras found the argument “hard to square with the heavy emphasis that the city places on the maintenance and repair agreement.”
     “If the city does not own the bridge and never has, and ownership carries with it the obligation of maintenance and repair, then what purpose did the maintenance and repair agreement ever serve?” the judge asked.
     “There is no good answer to that question, which suggests that the original parties believed that, in the absence of an agreement, the city would bear the burden of bridge maintenance and repair.”

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