WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a request from the Association of American Railroads to review a lower-court ruling regarding the authority of Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration to establish on-time performance metrics and standards for Amtrak operation on host freight railroads.
The convoluted legal history of the case has seen a district court of appeals rule that part of 2008 legislation involved is unconstitutional, while another part was allowed. Struck down was the Surface Transportation board’s ability to settle disputes over the performance standards and metrics. Development of the metrics was allowed [see “Court ruling opens door for FRA, Amtrak to establish on-time performance metrics,” Trains News Wire, July 20, 2018].
Reflecting the complexity of the case, Amtrak and the AAR both found reasons to pronounce themselves pleased with the result.
Amtrak said it is “is pleased with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court denying the application for certiorari filed by The Association of American Railroads. We are eager to work with the Federal Railroad Administration and all other stakeholders to develop clear, efficient and impactful metrics that will lead to better on-time performance for Amtrak customers and the entire rail system.”
The AAR’s statement, meanwhile, said, “While AAR and the freight railroad industry are disappointed that the Supreme Court denied our petition for cert regarding metrics and standards for Amtrak schedule performance, we are pleased that the metrics and standards remain invalidated. Freight railroads are committed to providing efficient and reliable service to all their customers and tenant railroads, and we will work with the FRA and Amtrak in a way that recognizes the importance of moving increased freight volume to help support the U.S. economy.”
In a statement late Monday, the Rail Passengers Association hailed the decision as “terrific news for everyone who relies on trains to get to work, to school, to visit family and friends.”
The statement from association President and CEO Jim Mathews also said “Today’s decision vindicates the position this association and our coalition partners have taken for years in court filings, briefs and letters to regulators. Now let’s put aside the legal arguments and get down to the important work of protecting the right of the traveling public to be on time.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to let this case end removes the final hurdle to Amtrak and the FRA working together to restore on-time performance standards that were vacated by previous rulings. With on-time performance today at record lows, American passengers have been waiting for years for the courts to step in, and now the highest court in the land has spoken.”
The legal challenge in question dates to 2011 [see “Freight railroads sue over Amtrak on-time provisions,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 24, 2011]. The Supreme Court previously ruled 9-0 in favor of the ability of Amtrak and the FRA to work on metrics [see “Supreme Court Oks Amtrak, FRA collaboration on performance metrics,” Trains News Wire, March 9, 2015], but subsequent rulings had generally favored freight railroads [see “Federal appeals court rules that Amtrak cannot be both passenger carrier, regulator,” Trains News Wire, May 20, 2016, and “Appeals court rejects on-time performance standards,” Trains News Wire, July 14, 2017.]
— Updated June 4, 7:20 a.m., with statement from Rail Passengers Association.