ATLP Association Highlights: Passenger Rail Update

Recent news in the passenger rail transportation regulatory realm includes the following:

• Amtrak asks STB to Order Class I’s to Add Trains Along Gulf Coast
• US DOT Increases Passenger Rail Liability Cap
• FRA Issues Emergency Order Requiring Masks in Railroad Operations

Read on for details.

Amtrak asks the STB to Order NS and CSXT to Add
Passenger Trains Along the Gulf Coast

On March 16, 2021, Amtrak filed a petition asking the Surface Transportation Board (“STB”) to issue an order requiring CSX Transportation (“CSX”) and Norfolk Southern (“NS”) to allow additional intercity passenger trains over their lines between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama.  Amtrak’s Gulf Coast passenger service was lost after damage to infrastructure during Hurricane Katrina and has not been restored since.  Amtrak asked the Board to issue an interim order requiring CSX and NS to provide Amtrak with access to the rail lines between New Orleans and Mobile in order to perform “all necessary preparations” for the Gulf Coast Service to begin in January 2022.

Amtrak’s petition relies on the STB’s authority under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(e), which provides: 

When a rail carrier does not agree to provide, or allow Amtrak to provide, for the operation of additional trains over a rail line of the carrier, Amtrak may apply to the Board for an order requiring the carrier to provide or allow for the operation of the requested trains. After a hearing on the record, the Board may order the carrier, within 60 days, to provide or allow for the operation of the requested trains on a schedule based on legally permissible operating times. However, if the Board decides not to hold a hearing, the Board, not later than 30 days after receiving the application, shall publish in the Federal Register the reasons for the decision not to hold the hearing.

According to Amtrak’s filing, Amtrak engaged in “good faith negotiations” with NS and CSXT for over five years, “including participating in a working group created by Congress, preparing a report in  conjunction with that working group, entering into an agreement for a modeling study with CSX and NS, and reviewing the results of CSX’s own earlier modeling study.”  However, “the parties remain very far apart in their positions on what is required to begin operating the Gulf Coast Service.” 

US DOT Increases Passenger Rail Liability Cap

On February 25, 2021, the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Secretary of Transportation published notice in the Federal Register of an increase in the statutory cap on passenger rail liability for claims in connection with the injury, death, or damage to property of passengers in connection with a single accident or incident from $294,278,983 to $322,864,228 effective March 27, 2021. This limit, which is provided for in 49 U.S.C. 28103(a)(2), is adjusted for inflation every five years.

FRA Issues Emergency Order Requiring Masks in Railroad Operations

Following President Biden’s Executive Order 13998, Promoting COVID–19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel (EO),and the Transportation Security Administration’s January 31, 2021 Security Directive, “Security Measures – Face Mask Requirements,” (SD) the FRA announced that it is exercising its emergency railroad safety authority to implement the terms of the of the EO and SD by requiring railroad carriers to require their personnel to wear a mask while engaged in railroad operations.  FRA’s Order sets forth some exceptions, including “a person who is the sole occupant of an enclosed cab of a locomotive, hi-rail vehicle, roadway maintenance machine, or any other on-track equipment that has an enclosed cab.” 

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