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Rail News: Amtrak

Court ruling allows Amtrak, FRA to set on-time standards


A federal appeals court ruled last week that Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) should be allowed to set their own standards for measuring on-time performance of passenger-rail service.

The 2-1 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the latest in a legal dispute over whether Amtrak has a right to be involved in the rulemaking process for determining on-time performance.

The Association of American Railroads brought the suit several years ago by arguing that Amtrak should not be allowed to determine regulations that affect freight railroads.

Last week's ruling overturned a previous appellate court decision from 2015 that found a section of a 2008 law unconstitutional and allowed Amtrak to set standards that benefited its own interests, according to a press release issued by the Rail Passengers Association (RPA), which has filed an amicus curiae brief in the long-running case.

In a prepared statement, Amtrak officials expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

"Since this law was first overturned, we have seen continued deterioration of on-time performance over freight railroads driven primarily by freight-train interference," Amtrak officials said in an email. "This decision will allow the FRA to set on-time and other performance standards that would help ensure that our customers and the American taxpayer get the high-quality passenger service they deserve."

Arguing that it violated due process, the court also removed a portion of the law allowing Amtrak to create regulations for others in the “market” for rail right of way capacity, effectively viewing Amtrak as a competitor, RPA officials noted.

"With on-time performance today at record lows, American passengers have been waiting for years for the courts to step in and protect the rights of the traveling public," said RPA President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Mathews.