Posts Tagged ‘Surface Transportation Board’

STB Nominees Seek to be Neutral at Hearing

April 12, 2018

The two nominees for seats on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee this week and sought to deflect pointed questions they were asked about STB policies.

Patrick J. Fuchs, a former Commerce Committee staff member, and Michelle A. Schultz, deputy general counsel for the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, are Republicans who recently were nominated to STB seats by the Trump administration .

Among the questions was one by Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) about Amtrak’s statutory right of preference over freight traffic.

“The law says Amtrak has preference over freight transportation using a rail line. You talked about statutory directives. Do you agree [preference] is a statutory directive?” Wicker asked. “In reality freight railroads have consistently denied such preference to Amtrak.”

Noting that a federal appellate court has struck down one effort to regulate on-time performance, Fuchs said, “Reasonable terms and conditions are case-specific, dependent on a particular route. “I would be hesitant to make a sweeping statement. I would evaluate any case that came before the board from a fair and open perspective.”

Both nominees in their prepared statements and in answers to questions sought to paint themselves as neutral and impartial.

“I believe both in the importance of the board’s responsibilities and in the power of market forces to achieve efficiencies and drive innovation and investment,” Fuchs said in his statement.

For her part, Shultz said that “because freight rail and intercity passenger rail serve an integral role in enhancing mobility within the United States, it is incumbent upon the Board to approach matters . . . in an impartial manner within the bounds of its jurisdiction and the law.”

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Metra Takes CUS Dispute to STB

April 11, 2018

Metra is at odds with Amtrak over its lease and trackage rights at Chicago Union Station and has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation board to referee the dispute.

At issue is Metra’s contention that by merging the Chicago Union Station Company into Amtrak that that would allow Amtrak to evade federal law and STB oversight.

Until the merger last year, the CUS company had been an Amtrak subsidiary and Metra’s nominal landlord.

In its STB filing, Metra described the merger as “a corporate maneuver to evade the Board’s commuter rail service-protective mechanisms [that] would be counter to Congressional intent and public policy and an abdication of the board’s responsibilities.”

Metra wants the STB to rule the STB under federal law still has jurisdiction over the station, as had been the case under the lease with the station company, and that it has authority to prescribe terms for Metra’s use of the station.

Such a declaration would enable the STB to mediate an impasse between Metra and Amtrak over a new lease.

By law, Amtrak is exempt from most STB economic regulation, but the station company is not.

Metra’s lease at CUS will expire on April 30. A Metra spokesman said the commuter rail agency will pay $9.7 million under its lease this year.

An Amtrak spokesman declined to comment on the STB filing by Metra.

Although CUS is not the only facility used by Metra in downtown Chicago, it accounts for 41 percent of its passengers traveling to downtown, handling an average of 109,520 passengers on 286 weekly Metra trains on six routes.

Metra is worried that Amtrak might contend that the merger has removed Union Station from the reach of federal law and therefore deprive Metra of alternative paths to preserve access to the the station “should it ever come to that.”

In a letter to Metra written last January, Amtrak contended that the federal law cited by Metra no longer is application to CUS because of the merger.

Amtrak acknowledged that it remains “responsible for the facilities and obligations of [the station company] that existed at the time of the merger.”

In its STB filing, Metra cited that letter in saying, “There plainly is disagreement (and therefore a controversy) between Metra and Amtrak over whether the properties formerly owned by [the CUS company] are subject to the commuter rail protections of Sections 11102 and 28502 [of the Chapter 40 of the U.S. Code].”

Metra also contended that the issue could have implications for commuter rail agencies using Washington Union Station.

That would include Virginia Railway Express and MARC Commuter Train Service.

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.

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.”

 

STB Express Concerns Over Amtrak Delays on CSX

August 21, 2017

Somewhat overlooked in all of the back and forth about deteriorating CSX freight service is a directive from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that it will no longer tolerate delays that have slowed some of Amtrak’s trains on CSX routes.

The STB sent a letter to CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison “expressing concerns about deteriorated service,” and criticizing CSX for its “unreliable” and “inefficient” operations, as well as “poor communications and coordination.”

A CSX spokesman acknowledged that the operations of Amtrak trains have been disrupted, particularly on the Chicago-Indianapolis route.

“CSX understands that these changes have resulted in some disruptions to Amtrak on its passenger rail service on the Hoosier State line between Indianapolis and Chicago, and we have been in contact with Amtrak and the Indiana Department of Transportation about those issues,” said CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said. “CSX is committed to continuing a dialogue about these concerns as operational changes occur.”

Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis corridor is primarily comprised of CSX track.

During June, the southbound Hoosier State arrived on-time one in three times.

“It remains a concern — and will be as we continue to report out the performance of that train and their handling of it,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Doolittle insisted that the disruptions to Amtrak will be short-lived as the railroad better implements its new operating plan.

Appeals Court Strikes down STB On-time Standards

July 17, 2017

Another federal court has struck a blow at the efforts of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to establish on-time standards for Amtrak trains.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the STB standards to be unconstitutional, saying that the STB had “exceeded its authority” in creating the standards.

The appeal court ruling came in the wake of a similar U.S. Supreme Court ruling that development of on-time metrics by the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak as directed by Section 207 of 2008’s Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act was unconstitutional.

In the Eighth Circuit ruling, Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith acknowledged that the absence of such on-time standards would make it impossible for the STB to investigate or adjudicate disputes brought by Amtrak against host railroads in the event that punctuality fell below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters.

However, the court in essence decided that the STB’s inability to measure on time performance is not a problem for the judiciary to solve.

There are two cases pending before the STB in which Amtrak alleges that host railroads needlessly delayed Amtrak trains.

One case involve the handling by Canadian National of the Saluki and Illini between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, while the other regards Norfolk Southern’s handling of the Capitol Limited west of Pittsburgh.

In both cases, Amtrak contends that dispatching decisions made by the host railroads are delaying its trains.

The STB had contended that it had the legal right to establish on-time standards “by virtue of its authority to adjudicate complaints brought by Amtrak. Any other result would gut the remedial scheme, a result Congress clearly did not intend.”

Supporting the STB’s position were 13 intervenors, including the National Association of Railroad Passengers and its state affiliates along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Challenging the STB were Union Pacific, CSX, CN and the Association of American Railroads.

They argued that the “gap-filling rationale does not allow one agency to assume the authority expressly delegated to another.”

The court found that the only place in federal law where the 80 percent standard was spelled out was in section 207, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional because Amtrak had a hand in developing it.

Although the court let stand Congress’ setting a statutory right of passenger train “priority” over freight trains, the practical effect of the court decision is that Amtrak has no way to challenge a host railroad’s systematic denial of that right.

Instead, the only motivation for railroads to keep Amtrak trains on time are the proprietary and confidential incentive contracts Amtrak has been able to negotiate with its host railroads pertaining to on-time handling.

The only action Amtrak can take against a host railroad would be to refuse to make incentive payments due to non-performance under the terms of its operating contracts with a host railroad.

The court rulings do suggest that Congress could give the FRA a mandate to establish on-time standards provided that Amtrak was not a participant in the writing of those standards.

Trump Budget Slashes Amtrak Funding by 45%

May 24, 2017

The Trump administration wants to slash Amtrak funding by 45 percent in fiscal year 2018.

The detailed budget proposed released this week proposed giving Amtrak $744 million.

In the current fiscal year, Amtrak received $1.4 billion. The cuts for next year include ending $289 for Amtrak’s long-distance train routes.

The budget document described long-distance trains as “a vestige of when train service was the only viable transcontinental transportation option. Today, communities are served by an expansive aviation, interstate highway, and intercity bus network.”

The document said Amtrak’s long-distance trains represent the greatest amount of Amtrak’s operating losses, serve relatively small populations, and have the worst on-time record.

The Trump administration would instead appropriate $1.5 billion for the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.

[The Northeast Corridor] “faces many challenges, and the 2018 Budget proposal would allow Amtrak to right-size itself and more adequately focus on these pressing issues,” the budget document said.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration has proposed cutting funding for the development of New York’s Penn Station by 64 percent from $14 million to $5 million.

The Amtrak funding cuts make up the lion’s share of the 37 percent cut proposed by the Trump administration for the Federal Railroad Administration.

The agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Transportation, would receive $16.2-billion in FY 2018, a decline of 12.7 percent over what it received in FY 2017.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s budget would drop by 37 percent from $1.7 billion to $1.05 billion while Federal Transit Administration will decline by 5 percent from its FY 2017 appropriation of $11.8 billion.

The FTA would receive $11.2 billion, which includes $9.7 billion for transit formula grants. The FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program for new starts would be cut by 43 percent from $2.16 billion to $1.2.

Funding would be continued only for programs that FTA is legally bound to support through full-funding grant agreements.

Funding for the Transportation Generating Economic Recovery grant program would be eliminated.

The budget document said projects that are attempting to receive TIGER funding could still earn grants through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Projects fund managed by DOT’s Build America Bureau.

The Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation programs would remain in place, but receive no additional funding.

The National Transportation Safety Board would receive $106 million, which is no change from FY 2017.

The Surface Transportation Board would receive a $5 million boost to $37 million in order to implement regulatory changes under the STB reauthorization law of 2015.

The Trump administration budget proposal is likely to undergo numerous changes as Congress considers federal funding priorities for FY 2018.

Amtrak’s Moorman Favors Negotiations With Railroads Rather than Government Force

December 22, 2016

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman prefers negotiations with its contract railroads rather than government regulation or court action when it comes to improving the passenger carrier’s on-time issues.

Amtrak logoMoorman said during an interview with Politico that on-time performance is a sensitive subject, but he thinks the freight railroads are amendable to talking about how to improve Amtrak’s performance.

Moorman said he knows that delays caused by freight trains are hindering Amtrak’s long-distance trains, but he also believes the railroads are putting forth their best effort to give passenger trains good on-time performance.

In recent years, the on-time performance of passenger trains has been the subject of a U.S. Surface Transportation board rule-making proceeding and Amtrak has filed complaints with the STB about the dispatching practices of certain railroads, notably Canadian National.

The STB has said it will examine on a case-by-case basis situations in which a freight railroad is to blame if Amtrak is unable to meet an 80 percent on-time performance goal.

The STB also will implement new formulas for calculating on-time performance.

STB Finalizes Passenger Dispute Rules

November 30, 2016

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has issued its final rule implementing standards for resolving dispute between passenger carriers and their host railroads.

STBThe standards were mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

The STB said that “the FAST Act clarified and augmented the Board’s existing adjudicatory responsibilities related to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak).”

“Specific FAST Act provisions address STB adjudication of disputes regarding Amtrak cost recovery for its operation of state-supported routes, and costs allocated to states in their use of rail facilities for commuter rail operations within the Washington, D.C.-to-Boston Northeast Corridor.”

The FAST Act requires the Board to establish procedures for resolving such disputes, which may include the provision of professional mediation services. The Board said its final rule implements those provisions.

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.”