Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Judge Sides With Amtrak in Spat Over D.C. Cables

WASHINGTON (CN) - Keeping Amtrak in control of fiber-optic cables beneath D.C.'s Union Station, a federal judge booted a challenge to the rail's right to charge access fees.

Amtrak first licensed a right of way to the cables at issue, critical to transmitting digital data via telephone, cable and Internet, in 1999 when TW Telecom of D.C. owned them.

Though Delaware-based FiberLight LLC bought TW's fiber-optic cable network in 2005, Amtrack will not let FiberLight access the Union Station cables unless FiberLight involves TW or pays a fee itself for a right-of-way agreement to the rail hub near Capitol Hill.

FiberLight, whose cable network runs through Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., filed suit in 2013, saying Amtrack lacks a right to exclude it or charge access fees since the property above its cable "was dedicated to public use in 1914."

U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson dismissed the action on March 2, finding that FiberLight lacks standing to have the court determine Amtrak's right to charge access fees.

The 41-page opinion notes that FiberLight's frustration stems from "hiccups" in the negotiations to assign TW's interest in the Union Station right-of-way agreement.

Though FiberLight submitted a draft of an agreement to Amtrak in 2006, it was not until 2011 that TW facilitated its successor's walkthrough of the Union Station cables.

When the parties restarted negotiations on the right of way in 2013, FiberLight seized upon the 1914 records that it said showed that Union Station's tracks are "dedicated to public use."

Judge Jackson found Monday that the public-importance factor "cuts against the exercise of declaratory judgment jurisdiction in this case."

"FiberLight's 'dedicated to public use' allegations - which undergird the trespass-related claims - raise such significant questions of law because they implicate Amtrak's ability to control the public's access to the Union Station property generally," the decision states.

Judge Jackson says he has the discretion to deny FiberLight relief.

"In sum, this court finds that a declaration regarding FiberLight's property claims would not settle the controversy between the parties; FiberLight can be considered to have acted somewhat inequitably; FiberLight has engaged in procedural fencing; the remaining claims raise issues of public importance that are better decided in the context of a fully-litigated case; and FiberLight is requesting what amounts to an anticipatory defense," he wrote.

Amtrak is described in the decision by its full name, National Railroad Passenger Corp.

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