Metra’s request to dismiss Union Pacific’s federal lawsuit over continued operation of three Chicago-area commuter lines was denied Thursday, with a hearing on the case set for Sept. 8.
The order by Judge Jorge L. Alonso of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said the primary issue in the case — whether Union Pacific has a common-carrier obligation to provide commuter rail service — is the type of issue “this court and its sister courts [consider] every day, which is why it would not be appropriate to refer such an issue to an agency,” concluding the court has primary jurisdiction.
Metra had previously asked the Surface Transportation Board to intervene, and wanted the case dismissed so the matter would be left in the STB’s hands, but the STB elected to hold its participation in abeyance to await a court decision [see “STB defers decision in Metra-Union Pacific dispute,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 7, 2020]. The order also suggest that the STB would not made its decision “if it believed the issue was within its primary jurisdiction,” but recognizes the STB’s “significant industry knowledge” and invites it to file a brief on the merits of the case. Metra and UP have been unable to negotiate a contract for continued service on the UP West, Northwest, and North lines, leading to an increasingly contentious dispute that saw UP file suit late last year [see “UP sues Metra over commuter operations,” News Wire, Dec. 21, 2019].
Alonso’s full four-page ruling was filed with the STB by Union Pacific’s attorney on Thursday.