August 12, 2016 - NARP / TRA Newswire - Following the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) final rule to define on-time performance for passenger rail using on-time arrival and departure at all stations along a passenger-train's route—a huge victory for passengers including those in Texas —the Association of American Railroads (AAR) filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia questioning the STB’s authority to define on-time for passenger rail. The AAR maintains that Congress gave the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak the authority to define on-time performance (OTP), not the STB. It’s an ironic twist in the battle to protect passenger’s rights to quality service, since the AAR petitioned the STB in January 2015 to pursue rulemaking proceedings to define OTP. The STB agreed to AAR’s request, and originally issued a preliminary finding that favored freight traffic. The AAR supported this interpretation.
However, following a concerted advocacy campaign—led by NARP and Amtrak-served communities—the STB revised the proposal and issued a more passenger-friendly final ruling. Having not gotten their way, the AAR finds itself in the embarrassing position of accusing the STB—which only issued the ruling in the first place in response to an AAR request—of not having jurisdiction over OTP.
In addition to AAR, freight railroads CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National Railway each filed their own suits against STB this week regarding the OTP rule. Each of these railroads are under STB investigation for poor performance on Amtrak routes that use their tracks.
The ruling is important for both freight and passenger rail, as a 2008 law mandates that if on-time performance averages less than 80 percent for any two consecutive calendar quarters, Amtrak can petition the STB for an investigation into congestion issues and solutions for the delays. Amtrak trains that operate in Oklahoma and Texas would be affected by the decision. Those include the daily Texas Eagle and Heartland Flyer services and the tri-weekly Sunset Limited.
You can read NARP’s comments on the STB’s ruling here.
NARP played an active role in last year’s AAR case before the Supreme Court, filing an amicus curiae brief with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in a case that was ultimately decided in Amtrak’s favor.