Happening Now

Federal Court Acts to Protect Rail Passengers

July 20, 2018

Decision Allows Amtrak and FRA to Set Quality Standards for Intercity Rail Operations

For Immediate Release (18-34)
July 20, 2018
Contact: Xenophon Strategies - (202) 289-4001

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled today in favor of passenger rail service by allowing Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to set their own standards for measuring passenger rail service on time performance.

The Rail Passengers Association is in full support of the court’s decision, allowing Amtrak and the FRA to prioritize the service of paying customers who travel the country by rail.

“Today's appellate decision vindicates the position our Association has taken in numerous court filings, briefs and letters to regulators over the years,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association. “This sets the stage for Amtrak and the FRA to work 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 protect the rights of the traveling public. The Rail Passengers Association could not be happier with this decision.”

A lawsuit was first brought to the court by the Association of American Railroads, who argued that Amtrak should not be allowed to determine regulations for other railroads, such as freight.

The court ruled 2-1 in favor of Amtrak and the FRA, overturning 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.

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. The Department of Transportation argued earlier this year in March, that removal of the arbitration provision from the 2008 law would alleviate the issue.

Rail Passengers Association has played an active role in this long running battle, including filing an amicus curiae brief along with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in the case.

While the decision may escalate back to the Supreme Court, and the question of which entity enforces on time performance metrics is still open, it nonetheless represents a battle won in the Passenger’s favor.

“We will continue to fight for passengers’ rights in the courts, in Congress, and in the sphere of public opinion,” said Mathews.

About the Rail Passengers Association
The Rail Passengers Association, previously known as the National Association of Railroad Passengers, is the oldest and largest national organization speaking for the nearly 40 million users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.