WASHINGTON (CN) – The Association of American Railroads sued the federal government for giving Amtrak, a private corporation with a “historically poor record of on-time performance and (a) chronic inability to generate revenue sufficient to cover its operating costs,” the “authority to promulgate binding rules governing the conduct of its contractual partners, the freight railroads.”
Representing freight carriers, the Association of American Railroads challenges the constitutionality of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA), which gives Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration the power to “‘jointly … develop new or improve existing metrics and minimum standards for measuring the performance and service quality of intercity passenger train operations. …'”
The freight carriers say the metrics and standards section of the law establishes performance standards for Amtrak, but relies heavily on “Conductor Delay Reports” as evidence for determining whether the railroads are at fault for Amtrak’s missing its marks.
If an Amtrak train falls below 80 percent of the on-time standard for two consecutive calendar quarters, the Surface Transportation Board can investigate Amtrak or the host freight railroad. The Board may order the host rail carrier to pay damages to Amtrak.
Outside of the Northeast, Amtrak runs its trains on tracks owned by private freight railroads.
The freight railroads say the PRIIA is “unconstitutional because it improperly delegates lawmaking and rulemaking authority to a private company,” and the metrics and standards are therefore invalid.
“Amtrak ‘is not a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States Government,'” the railroads say. “Rather, it is a private entity that is ‘operated and managed as a for-profit corporation.’ PRIIA purports to vest Amtrak with the power to issue binding regulations governing the business operations of the freight railroads. It is a bedrock principle of constitutional law that Congress cannot empower a private entity to regulate other participants in the same industry.”
The Association of American Railroads is made up of all of the larger freight railroads, some smaller freight railroads and Amtrak.
The freight railroads say their operations will be hurt if they are forced to ensure that Amtrak meets federal on-time performance standards.
The freight railroads seek declaratory judgment that the metrics and standards section of the PRIAA is unconstitutional.
(Although Amtrak’s record of meeting its schedules is tolerable in the West, from Chicago east and throughout the South its ontime record is deplorable. The PRIIA must be particularly galling to the freight carriers as Amtrak conductors customarily tell passengers that delays are caused by freight trains.)
The Association sued the Department of Transportation, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, the Federal Railroad Administration, and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo.
The Association of American Railroads is represented by Thomas Dupree Jr. with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and by its house counsel Louis Warchot.