• Amtrak New Gulf Coast Service - New Orleans to Mobile AL

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

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  by ExCon90
 
Exactly -- time = money, and track capacity = time. Getting a court to see that track capacity is a good will require careful preparation. In fact, it's not exactly easy to explain railroad costing ("the tracks are there anyway, and what's one more train going to cost?") but the time and additional wear-and-tear are measurable and have to be paid for by somebody.
  by eolesen
 
Ken W2KB wrote: Tue Jul 13, 2021 4:04 pm Not rule that Amtrak is unconstitutional, but that it is unconstitutional as a taking without just compensation under the 5th Amendment for Amtrak to utilize trackage of a freight railroad without paying the full direct costs and indirect costs of use of the track. That is likely a much greater amount than Amtrak now pays.
Agreed. It comes down to whether or not CSX and NS are being burdened with costs or lost revenue that exceeds what Amtrak is paying for access. I suspect that's not a hard case to prove.
  by Jadebenn
 
Opportunity cost isn't a taking. Zoning is a good example of why that argument would hold no water in court. Hell, zoning is honestly way more arbitrary and financially impactful.

Amtrak's legal rights are very clearly defined and have been upheld by the courts many times over the past half-century. This is not a war the freights will win.
  by eolesen
 
Nope, zoning isn't a good example. When you buy a piece of property, you know how it is zoned, and it doesn't typically get re-zoned without your consent once you've made improvements to it. In the rare event it is downzoned, suing for damages is possible.
  by Ken W2KB
 
eolesen wrote: Fri Jul 23, 2021 7:09 am Nope, zoning isn't a good example. When you buy a piece of property, you know how it is zoned, and it doesn't typically get re-zoned without your consent once you've made improvements to it. In the rare event it is downzoned, suing for damages is possible.
Correct, at a minimum existing use must be grandfathered when zoning changes. Also, with respect to lost opportunity costs, by way of illustration, assume a freight railroad can operate 10 freight trains a day, and has a demonstrable reasonable expectation to be able to expand operations to run 12 freight trains which is the capacity of the line. Amtrak asserts that it has the right to operate over this line and notifies the railroad that it will run 4 passenger trains a day. As a result, the freight railroad can now operate only 8 freight trains a day, two of the existing trains cannot be operated and it cannot expand service as planned for the additional two freight trains. Such a fact pattern is clearly a taking without just compensation under the 5th Amendment. Highly speculative costs are generaly not compensable, but any costs that can be reasonably demonstrated are compensable.
  by rohr turbo
 
A contract's a contract. No railroad was forced to sign (at least two large ones did not in 1970-71)

Nothing was rezoned. Nothing analagous to rezoning was done. Nothing was 'taken.'
  by ExCon90
 
My understanding is that if a law is found by a court to violate the Fifth or any other Amendment it is unenforceable. According to various posts here the original contract of 1971 no longer binds the railroads; and if the present law were found to be an unconstitutional taking it wouldn't bind them either. (Full disclosure: I used to work for a railroad and cannot be considered a disinterested observer.)
  by David Benton
 
Its a bit of a shame to focus on the negatives , and fight . If Amtrak and railroads presented a united proposal to govt right now , they could probably get enough money so both are better off.
  by rohr turbo
 
ExCon90 wrote: Fri Jul 23, 2021 8:01 pm According to various posts here the original contract of 1971 no longer binds the railroads;
Please everyone stop repeating hearsay and wishful thinking as facts. No one has cited any contract language or court case that comes close to invalidating RPSA70.

Here's an interesting 2017 presentation by Amtrak/DOT detailing the arrangements with host railroads:
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/Planning/freig ... 2017bl.pdf

Of interest is slide 10 which states there actually is a procedure for host RRs to avoid giving Amtrak scheduling preference if they can demonstrate it interferes with quality of freight operations, and pointedly, "No host has sought to demonstrate this."
  by Jadebenn
 
eolesen wrote: Fri Jul 23, 2021 7:09 am Nope, zoning isn't a good example. When you buy a piece of property, you know how it is zoned, and it doesn't typically get re-zoned without your consent once you've made improvements to it. In the rare event it is downzoned, suing for damages is possible.
Yet not a single property owner who owned property before zoning won a case for a fifth amendment taking after zoning. Heck, the Supreme Court upheld it. It is not a taking.

And the railroads are even worse off, because they signed contracts.
  by gokeefe
 
I think the 5th Amendment arguments about a taking would be appropriate to a business that is not operating a public utility. Railroads are most definitely public utilities and therefore subject to public interest questions in a way that others are not. Amtrak's own creation and existence including post RPSA '71 framework seems to support this.

I believe that on order for an unconstitutional taking to have occurred it must be proven a) that there is no longer a public interest served by passenger rail operations over U.S. common carrier railroads or b) that Amtrak's proposed operation does not serve the public interest in passenger rail transit.

Neither of these things are true on the Gulf Coast scenario. I accept of course they others might disagree to the degree or efficiency of service to the public but for now Amtrak's operational record of the past fifteen years clearly leans in favor of proceeding with route expansion through heavily populated areas that are not currently served.

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  by eolesen
 
Again, CSX and NS didn't say no.

They gave a price tag for the improvements that would be needed to allow service and also meet the new ontime metrics that are in place.

Amtrak can't demand access and also expect arrival dependability without paying for those improvements.

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  by Ken W2KB
 
gokeefe wrote: Sat Jul 24, 2021 11:23 pm
Public utility status does not result in an exclusion from Constitutional protections. Indeed, federal and state courts often have reversed federal and state regulatory agency decisions based upon this standard of review: "allowed rates must be fair, just and reasonable including the recovery of costs that are prudently incurred, and the right to earn a reasonable return on investment". To the extent that Amtrak's payments to a railroad over which Amtrak operates does not meet this legal requirement Amtrak must increase its compensation paid to a fair, just and reasonable amount or cease to operate over that line.
Last edited by nomis on Mon Jul 26, 2021 2:48 pm, edited 1 time in total. Reason: Truncated unnecessary quote
  by Jadebenn
 
As gokeefe points out, railroads are still common carriers. Their obligations have been greatly reduced post-Staggers, but not eliminated. The whole grand bargain Amtrak represented was that the feds would release them from their obligations of passenger service in exchange for allowing them to run it on their tracks. Again, I don't doubt many didn't expect how resilient this service would be, but the bargain was nonetheless struck, and is still the law of the land.

Looking at a broader sense, I think the system we have currently works fairly well. Yes, it's true that Amtrak running across freight lines imposes opportunity costs on the railroad industry. However, you see that legislative power used as a way to maintain a minimum level of acceptable service and bring the freights to the negotiating table for things above that. If Amtrak did not have this power, it'd look like VIA: unable to maintain any consistency or timeliness in their service provided on host railroads.

At least our way, both parties need to come to the table and agree on the least bad option for both of them. The freights see this as an imposition, but I see it as a minimum standard. A "floor" for service, so to speak. We'd have no passenger service outside the NEC and a few corridors if every Amtrak service had to be built to Brightline/FEC standards of rail infrastructure so that passenger and freight traffic would never interfere. At the same time, you've got to get the freights at the table to do infrastructure improvements if you want to run more than one or two trains a day; there's not enough capacity on your average single line otherwise. To put it simply: Amtrak needs the leverage of being able to unilaterally run a minimal service in order to ever do more than that.

In this particular case, I doubt the freights were genuinely trying to give Amtrak the runaround and outright deny them, but it definitely seems like they were stalling the process in the hopes Amtrak would lose interest/the political winds would change. It seems to me that now they're in a pickle, because they can't back down and set the precedent that Amtrak doesn't have to study the impact of running passenger service, but they also know that there's a good chance the STB/courts will say exactly that and further embolden Amtrak. After all, there's no legal obligation I'm aware of for Amtrak to do those studies. It seemed to me to be more of a "keep the freights happy so they don't tie us up on lawsuits they may or may not win" measure. One that Amtrak might not find neccesary to do anymore if the courts say they don't need to.
  by eolesen
 
To be fair, Amtrak may be slow walking things on their end hoping the winds shift in their favor -- AL is still refusing to fund the service, and I don't think MS or LA are interested in funding a train that only goes as far as Biloxi or Pascagoula and it would be fairly unprecedented for them to try and fund AL's portion.
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