Railroad passenger advocacy groups petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to overturn a lower court’s ruling on the enforcement of on-time performance standards, arguing that prioritizing cargo over passengers leads to frequent delays for long distance passengers.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) filed a petition for the high court to review lower court decisions on the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA). The law, which Congress approved in 2008, defines on-time performance standards to ensure that trains run on time.
“When the DC Circuit nullified Section 207 last year, it took away (Federal Railroad Administration’s) power to develop on-time performance standards,” Jim Mathews, the president of NARP, said. “Then the Eighth Circuit this summer interpreted Section 213 in a way that eviscerated the power of the Surface Transportation Board, which was the only agency left to carry out Congress’ assignment to improve on-time performance. The two courts’ moves together have left no agency remaining to fulfill Congress’ statutory mandate in PRIIA to enforce those standards. That gap thwarts Congress’ core intent in PRIIA, and leaves passengers without any recourse.”
The petition requests that the Supreme Court review a decision by the Eighth Circuit in July that rejected the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) interpretation of Section 213 of PRIIA — that two separate triggers were established under to investigate lagging on-time performance metrics.
“This fight has gone on long enough,” Mathews said. “For decades, rail passengers have been left waiting for freight trains to clear the rails. Even acts of Congress haven’t been able to budge them out of the way. We need the courts to now recognize and allow Congress’ goal to be carried out. The law creating Amtrak in the early 1970s codified a deal these railroads made with the American taxpayer: we’ll relieve you of your common-carrier responsibility for passenger service, and in exchange, you’ll ensure those passenger trains get where they need to go on time. It has been a battle ever since.”
NARP filed the petition on behalf of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and other passenger advocacy groups.