Posts Tagged ‘Association of American Railroads’

Amtrak Wants Right to Sue Host Railroads over On-time Performance

March 13, 2018

Tucked away in Amtrak’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 is a plea to Congress to give the passenger the legal right to sue its host railroads for delaying its trains.

Amtrak wants to be able to seek legal remedies to protect its statutory right of preference by bringing “an action for equitable or other relief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, or in any jurisdiction where Amtrak resides or is found, to enforce preference rights granted under this subsection.”

The requests follows setbacks in the lawsuits challenging certain provisions of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The Association of American Railroads challenged the process whereby on-time metrics were to be developed by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Specifically the AAR objected to allowing Amtrak to play a role in establishing the standards.

AAR won that battle when the courts ruled that Congress had unlawfully granted Amtrak regulatory power over the industry in which it participates.

When Amtrak brought three cases against its host railroads, using a Surface Transportation Board metric of 80 percent on-time performance in deciding pending cases, an appeals court ruled that the 80 percent standard had been tainted by the previous rulings.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee recently, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said, “We’ve never been able to get the preference right that Amtrak has, enforced . . . and we’d like a private right of action.”

Amtrak is also seeking legislative action to overturn a law that prohibits it from hiring lobbyists. It noted that its host railroads and labor unions are able to hire lobbyists.

The passenger carrier also wants changes to streamline its compliance with at-odds reporting requirements from multiple federal agencies, an exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests, and a law that will make it a federal crime to assault an Amtrak crew member.

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The Politics of PTC

February 21, 2018

Much has been said during the past two months about positive train control, but one of the more interesting comments came from Bennett Levin, the owner of a pair of E8A locomotives painted in the livery of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Levin told Trains magazine that he couldn’t afford the six-figure cost per unit to outfit his locomotives with a PTC device. Instead, he’ll probably sideline them.

Referring to a 2008 federal law that mandates PTC on many railroad routes, Levin described the requirement as “unfortunate and untimely” and suggested the requirement might not exist had a Metrolink commuter train engineer been doing his job instead of texting on his cell phone in the minutes before his train ran past a red signal and crashed head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles, an incident that left 25 dead.

Levin’s comments probably reflect the thinking of others in the railroad industry but it would not be good public relations, let alone good politics, for them to make similar comments.

The Association of American Railroads recently held a press briefing in which it fired an opening salvo on behalf of railroads likely to ask the Federal Railroad Administration for an extension of time to meet the PTC mandate.

The AAR expressed confidence that U.S. railroads will comply with the PTC deadline of
Dec. 31, but an AAR official later said it won’t be known until summer which railroads might seek an extension of time to install PTC.

Those requests for more time might not sit well with some at the FRA, the U.S. Department of Transportation or Congress.

The railroad trade group also was laying the groundwork for future fights concerning PTC by expressing concern that the FRA will micromanage PTC systems once they are in place and operating.

That concern is not without merit given the statements that have been coming virtually nonstop from the National Transportation Safety Board and Congress in the wake of three high profile accidents since December involving Amtrak trains that resulted in fatalities.

In two of those, the NTSB has said that had PTC been operating at the time, the accident likely would have been avoided.

Given what we know about the facts of those three Amtrak collisions, human error was at the root of all of them. The implication is that in at least two of those accidents technology could have overcome human foibles.

Perhaps, but the AAR also made the point during that news conference that PTC is not the magic bullet for rail safety that many are making it out to be. AAR Senior Vice President for Safety and Operations Mike Rush cited a 2005 study that found only 4 percent of mainline accidents could have been prevented by PTC.

Of course safety is paramount advocates will counter that one life lost is one too many.

It is hard to argue against that, yet far more people lose their lives in highway accidents than are killed in railroad accidents and we don’t see a movement to install some form of PTC on highways, the move toward self-driving vehicles notwithstanding.

Most highway fatalities don’t make the national news, only the local news and even then they might not get that much attention, let alone the type of lasting attention needed to prompt policy makers into action.

Society has become numbed by the high number of road fatalities, but expects the government to do something about accidents involving public transportation.

Make no mistake about it. Implementation of PTC is as much a political issue as it is a safety issue.

People who own railroad companies and, for that matter, airline companies, trucking companies, water transportation companies, bus companies, et. al, don’t like being told how to run their business. They don’t like being pushed around by government regulators and policy makers.

During the AAR news conference, Rush tried to make the case that PTC would likely have come about anyway without the government mandate.

He said the industry has spent decades researching PTC and conducted trials, one of which ended in failure.

But all of that got short circuited by the 2008 government mandate. Since then, the railroad industry has invested $10 billion in PTC and figures to spend millions if not billions more in maintaining it.

We’ll never know what the railroad industry would have come up with had it been left to its own devices in developing PTC. Nor will we ever know how many railroads would have installed PTC voluntarily on how much of their networks.

What we do know is that so long as public transportation conveyances continue to have accidents that leave people dead, there will continue to be government regulators and private citizen lobby groups trying to push the transportation industry around by telling them what to do to make travel safer.

Trump Infrastructure Plan Gets Mixed Rerviews

February 14, 2018

The Trump Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan has been released to mixed reviews from the transportation sector.

A qualified positive review came from the Association of American Railroads, which called the plan a start in a discussion about infrastructure needs.

In a prepared statement, AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger said the trade organization “particularly welcomes the efforts to streamline the federal permitting processes, including in the proposal’s attempt to codify executive orders into law while also strengthening existing processes.”

However, the American Public Transportation Association expressed concern about proposed “deep cuts” in federal programs that fund public transit infrastructure.

“The $200 billion proposed by the administration for infrastructure would be paid for by cutting funding for critical public transportation infrastructure programs, including the Capital Improvement Grants, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, and Amtrak in the fiscal-year 2019 budget,” APTA said in a statement. “This would be a big mistake and counterproductive to fostering prosperous communities.”

APTA did commend the administration’s commitment to strengthening American infrastructure.

President Trump has proposed that states and local communities match federal funds they receive to implement infrastructure improvement projects. It is also seeking to encourage private-sector investors in public works projects.

The plan would expand the use of tax-exempt debt, allow states to add tolls on interstate highways, and make it easier to lease airports and other public assets.

The AAR said a key component of any infrastructure plan needs to be a long-term solution to shoring up the Highway Trust Fund.

It noted that such a proposal was not included in Trump’s infrastructure plan.

“Policymakers should make every effort to return surface transportation funding to a truly equitable, user-pay system as originally designed,” Hamberger said.

APTA said it will work toward a bipartisan solution that continues and expands the “historic federal support” that’s necessary to address public transit needs, including a $90 billion backlog of the transit industry’s state-of-good repair needs.

“Funding public transportation projects is aligned with the administration’s focus on funding major transformative projects, supporting rural communities, streamlining the federal permitting and approval processes, and investing in a high-skilled, competitive workforce,” APTA said. “We are encouraged by specific provisions in the proposal related to public transportation, including streamlining, preserving and expanding the CIG pilot program and eliminating constraints on private-public partnerships.”

NARP Wants High Court Review of Passenger Ruling

November 15, 2017

The Rail Passengers Association, the new name for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeal court decision that reduced the authority of the Surface Transportation Board to set on-time standards for passenger trains.

In the petition, the groups content that without defined standards, freight will be systematically given preference over passenger trains, leading to chronic delays for long distance riders.

NARP is seeking to overturn the appeals court decision that applied a narrow interpretation of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

The case grew from a challenge to a section of that law by the Association of American Railroads that was first ruled upon by a Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

“When the D.C. Circuit nullified Section 207 last year, it took away FRA’s power to develop on-time performance standards. Then the Eighth Circuit this summer interpreted Section 213 in a way that eviscerated the power of the Surface Transportation Board, which was the only agency left to carry out Congress’ assignment to improve on-time performance. The two courts’ moves together have left no agency remaining to fulfill Congress’ statutory mandate in PRIIA to enforce those standards,” said Jim Mathews, NARP president.

Matthews said these decisions have thwarted congressional intent in PRIIA and leaves passengers without any recourse.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an STB interpretation that Section 213 of PRIIA, which created two separate “triggers,” each of which require the STB to investigate sub-standard on-time performance.

NARP noted that the AAR had in 2015 asked the STB to create the regulation that defined on-time performance.

NARP said that after the STB sided with passenger group, the railroad industry trade association challenged STB’s authority to regulate the issue.

“This fight has gone on long enough,” Mathews said. “For decades, rail passengers have been left waiting for freight trains to clear the rails. Even acts of Congress haven’t been able to budge them out of the way. We need the courts to now recognize and allow Congress’ goal to be carried out. The law creating Amtrak in the early 1970s codified a deal these railroads made with the American taxpayer: we’ll relieve you of your common-carrier responsibility for passenger service, and in exchange you’ll ensure those passenger trains get where they need to go on time. It has been a battle ever since.”

 

High-Speed Rail Won’t be Inexpensive

May 22, 2017

High speed passenger rail service in America is going to cost a lot of money two railroad leaders said last week.

On that point Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman” and Association of American Railroads Present Ed Hamberger both agree.

The two railroad executives appeared on Washington Journal, a daily C-SPAN cable network’s public affairs program.

AAR represents the interests of freight railroads so it is seeking different things in the pending Trump administration’s transportation infrastructure revitalization plan.

“The key issue with high speed trains which people don’t always recognize is that they essentially require [a] completely new right-of-way,” Moorman said. “The Europeans, the Chinese, the Japanese, and others have made significant commitments in the order of hundreds of billions of dollars, and that’s the kind of commitment it takes.”

Noting that Amtrak wants to boost train speeds in the Boston-New York-Washington Northeast Corridor, Moorman said that “will take huge amounts of infrastructure renewal and expenditure” to do so.

For his part, Hamberger made a pitch for freight rail. “Everybody says why can’t we have railroads like they have in Europe or Japan,” he said. “We have the best freight rail system in the world. We’re the envy of the world.”

Hamberger said freight railroads want changes in regulations of the industry, saying it now takes six to eight years to get government agencies to approve a capital investment such as a new bridge or intermodal yard.

“We need to compress that. You still have to go through the studies, you still have to get the permits, but let’s do it in a smart way so the different agencies are operating concurrently not in consecutive fashion,” Hamberger said.

Moorman also called for a balanced approach in providing passenger rail on long-distance and corridor routes.

“I view Amtrak as a government contractor,” Moorman said. “To date, the decision has always been made that Amtrak should be in the businesses that it’s currently in, and we continue to do what we do best, which is to promote the idea of passenger rail transportation across the country.”

Infrastructure Plan Might Not Benefit Amtrak

May 15, 2017

Public-private partnerships are unlikely to provide much, if any, benefit to Amtrak an executive of the carrier said last week during an industry conference to discuss the pending Trump administration infrastructure program.

Many attending the conference, which was sponsored by the Association of American Railroads, believer that the yet-to-be announced Trump plan will rely heavily on private investment.

That won’t provide much help to Amtrak said Caroline Decker, Amtrak’s senior vice president for government affairs and communications.

“There’s a lot discussion about an infrastructure package with PPPs, but when it comes to Amtrak and our infrastructure, most of that is going to require direct federal investment,” Decker said in an interview with Trains magazine.

Decker said during the a panel discussion that Amtrak’s infrastructure needs range from replacing aging bridges, tunnels and power distribution systems on the Northeast Corridor to buying new passenger cars to replace rolling stock that’s 50 years old and older.

Also speaking at the conference were other executives representing the AAR and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

Ian Jeffries, a senior vice president for government affairs with AAR, said freight railroads are not seeking federal funding but instead looking to resolve funding shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund and other user-pay systems.

AAR believes that the practice of underwriting the trust fund from general revenue, which has been going on for several years, gives the trucking industry a competitive advantage.

“Truckers are our biggest partners, and our biggest competitors,” Jeffries said.

AAR also wants to see some streamlining of environmental reviews when seeking permits for new construction.

Jo Strang, the vice president for safety and regulatory policy, of the short line association said that policy makers should be reminded that short-line railroads are small businesses and that changes in policy could have unintended consequences.

She cited raising the weight limit for trucks on highways as an example of a change that could harm short lines.

Nicole Berwin, vice president for government affairs with the Railroad Supply Institute, said Congress should view the industry as an integrated whole that includes railroads and their suppliers.

Let the Posturing Begin: Trade Groups Jockey for Influence in Wake of New Regime in Washington

March 31, 2017

With a new administration in Washington promising a renewed focus on transportation infrastructure the posturing from trade groups representing various segments of the railroad industry is in full swing.

The American Public Transportation Association is seeking to lobby Congress to fully fund the FAST Act for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 as well as include public transit in any infrastructure development plan.

The Association of American Railroads is seeking to caution the administration against taking too hostile of a stance on foreign trade by pointing out that at least 42 percent of rail traffic and more than 35 percent of annual rail revenue are directly tied to international trade.

APTA is reacting to the “skinny budget” proposed by President Donald Trump earlier this year that slashed funding for capital grants used by public transit.

In particular the Trump budget would greatly reduce the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants, TIGER grants and Amtrak funding.

APTA said it has conducted more than 60 meetings with congressional staff, focusing on those that serve on budget, appropriations, tax and authorization committees, and taken other proactive steps to engage with members of Congress.

It also has called on its members to meet with their members of Congress when they are on spring break in their home districts April 8-23.

As for the AAR, it released a report saying that 50,000 domestic rail jobs accounting for more than $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits depend directly on international trade. Those numbers would be higher if rail traffic indirectly associated with trade is included.

AAR fears that the Trump administration might make policy changes that would adversely affect the global economy.

“Efforts that curtail overall trade would threaten thousands of U.S. freight-rail jobs that depend on it and limit essential railroad revenues used to modernize railroad infrastructure throughout North America,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger.

The AAR report examined rail movements using data from the 2014 Surface Transportation Board Waybill Sample, other government data and information from U.S. ports and Google Earth.

This included movements of coal for export from ports in Maryland, Virginia, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes; paper and forest products imported from Canada into the Midwest, as well as paper products exported from the southern United States; imports and exports of Canadian and Mexican automotive products to and from auto factories in dozens of U.S. states; containers of consumer goods from Asia coming ashore in California, Washington, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey; plastics shipped by rail from Texas and Louisiana to the East and West coasts for export to Europe and Asia; iron ore mined in Minnesota and shipped by rail to Great Lakes ports; and Midwest-grown grain carried by rail to the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf Coast for export.

Chao Confirmed as Secretary of Transportation

February 1, 2017

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Elaine L. Chao as the new federal secretary of transportation. The vote was 93-6.

US DOTChao is the only member of the Donald L. Trump administration cabinet to have previously served as a cabinet secretary, having been secretary of labor in the George W. Bush administration.

She drew bipartisan praise during her confirmation hearings and on the Senate floor.

Chao also has served as chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission.

Her confirmation was lauded by the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

Both trade associations are expecting Chao to take a more railroad industry friendly approach to regulation.

“Ms. Chao has a deep appreciation of critical surface transportation issues. This includes the important role the rail industry plays in this country,” said Edward R. Hamberger, AAR president.

Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia congratulated Chao, saying he looked forward to working with her to strengthen Amtrak. The DOT secretary has a seat on the Amtrak board of directors.

AAR Appeals STB Passenger Train Ruling

August 11, 2016

Displeased with the outcome of a U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruling on passenger train on-time standards, the Association of American Railroads has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the ruling.

AARAAR maintains in its appeal that federal law gives the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak — but not the STB — the legal authority to define on-time performance.

The ruling in question involved an STB determination that on-time arrivals and departures at all stations along a passenger train’s route should be used for the purpose of determining on-time performance.

The STB also said it was dropping a proposal that would have allowed railroads to give higher priority to some freight trains over passenger trains.

The AAR asserted in its appeal that it is not challenging the rule that gives preference to passenger trains on freight-rail lines, said AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg.

“Freight railroads take contractual obligations seriously and comply with the law in giving Amtrak preference,” said Greenberg. “That has never been contested by freight railroads.”

But the AAR said it is disappointed that the STB “has decided to add mid-point on-time performance measures, which could result in negative impacts for freight rail customers and consumers.”

Court Sides With AAR in On-Time Rules Dispute

May 3, 2016

A federal appeals court ruled last week that a 2008 law unconstitutionally gave Amtrak regulatory power over its contract railroads.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with the Association of American Railroads in saying that the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 gave Amtrak too much power when it comes to writing regulations pertaining to on-time performance metrics.

It was the second time that the appeals court has ruled in favor of the AAR.

Amtrak logoAn earlier decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court which sent the case back to the appeals court for further review.

AAR had brought suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation in an effort to invalidate Section 207 of the 2008 PRII law.

In its latest ruling, the appeals court said the law’s giving Amtrak the authority to write regulations that affect its host railroads is in violation of the Constitution’s Due Process clause.

The court also knocked down the clause that gives the Surface Transportation Board the authority to appoint a mediator to arbitrate disputes between Amtrak and a host railroad over on-time performance.

The case has a long history that began with a federal district court siding with the U.S. DOT in favor of the law.

AAR appealed that decision to the appeals court, which said in July 2013 that Amtrak is a private company.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in March 2015 that Amtrak must be considered a governmental entity but instructed the appeals court to decide the question of the propriety of a government entity that is a participant in a private marketplace being able to regulate that marketplace.

However, concurring opinions by justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas noted that the situation might violate a host railroad’s right to due process.

Those opinions said that regulators must be “disinterested” government bodies rather than competitors in the business.

In its latest ruling, the appeals court cited the Alito and Thomas’s opinions, but conceded that Amtrak and its contract railroads are not competing for the same customers.

They are, however, the court said, competing for the same scarce railroad route capacity and therefore must be considered economic competitors.

As for the STB’s authority under the 2008 law to appoint an arbitrator, the appeals court said that an independent arbitrator appointed by the STB cannot make final regulations because he or she is not a duly appointed or sworn Officer of the United States, as the Constitution requires.

The AAR originally filed suit acted after the U.S. DOT began to promulgate regulations under Section 207 if the PRII with the railroad trade group arguing that the law was an unconstitutional delegation of rule-making to a private company.

In briefs to the court, the AAR relied on the congressional proclamation of the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 creating the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) not be treated as a government entity but instead be operated as a for-profit business.

Although the appeals court last week struck down Section 207, it left the rest of the 2008 PRII intact and did not disturb Amtrak’s statutory rights to access of freight railroad tracks on an incremental cost basis.

Nor did the appeals court set aside laws that give Amtrak trains “preference over freight transportation.”

Congress could revise the 2008 law to grant the U.S. DOT the sole power to write on-time performance metrics and standards, in consultation with Amtrak and other others.

In doing so, Congress could give the authority to mediate between Amtrak and a contract railroad to the STB, whose members are duly sworn Officers of the United States, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The court did not say that it was improper for the federal government to promulgate on-time performance regulations.