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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

AAR files lawsuit against USDOT, FRA challenging PRIIA mandate


On Aug. 18, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo that challenges the constitutionality of a section in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA).

Section 207 of the act requires Amtrak and the FRA to develop new or improve existing metrics and minimum standards for measuring intercity passenger train performance and service quality. Section 213 states that if Amtrak trains do not meet the Amtrak-created performance standards, and if the Surface Transportation Board determines a freight railroad is at fault for not giving Amtrak trains preference over freight trains, the board can assess damages, payable to Amtrak, against the freight railroad that owns the tracks, according to the lawsuit.
In May 2010, Amtrak and the FRA created a set of metrics and standards for Amtrak trains that “cannot be achieved as a practical matter on numerous routes,” the lawsuit reads. In addition, Amtrak is using “Amtrak-generated ‘Conductor Delay Reports’ as the best evidence for determining whether the railroad is at fault for failing to meet standards,” according to the lawsuit.

“What we’re asking for is the court to declare [Section 207] unconstitutional, and vacate the metrics and standards that were promulgated by FRA and DOT,” says AAR spokesperson Holly Arthur. “We believe it’s unconstitutional because it gives a private company — Amtrak — legislative and regulatory authority over business operations of freight railroads.”

In this case, Amtrak is a “financially interested private party that stands to directly benefit from violations of the very rules it created, and thus had the incentive to draft the metrics and standards in ways that were favorable to Amtrak and at the expense of the railroads,” the lawsuit states.

When asked for a response to the lawsuit, FRA spokesperson Brie Sachse said the FRA is unable to comment on pending litigation.

In 2010, the AAR filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit regarding Section 207 of PRIIA. The court instructed the AAR to file its suit with the federal district court, says Arthur.

Angela Cotey

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/25/2011