Amtrak Takes Its Delays to the Supreme Court

EmpireBuilderHell yeah!  ratpag and Amtrak go together like peas and carrots but that doesn’t mean that ratpag doesn’t get irritated when Amtrak takes a bit too long to arrive at the place at the time on the ticket.  How’s that for a well-written sentence!

So Amtrak’s been having a bit of an on-time problem the past year.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Amtrak trains have been late nearly 30 percent of the time in the last 12 months” – well short of the 85.5 percent nationwide on-time goal.  So what’s the problem?  Well, Amtrak says it’s because the freight railroads won’t get big, fat, obscene trains out of the way, as is federal law, and that’s slowing passenger trains down.

limited crescent

Ignoring 10 year-olds everywhere, they’ve made a federal case out of this.  How it happened (all according to the Philly Inquirer article):

  • In 2008 a federal law was created “that lets Amtrak help set on-time performance standards that can penalize freight railroads.”
  • The freight railroads sued to block this law (arguing that the “law unconstitutionally delegated legislative power to Amtrak, a private corporation”).
  • A federal court rejected this argument.
  • An appeals court in DC ruled in favor of the freight operators.
  • “Declines in Amtrak on-time performance on freight railroads quickly followed the court ruling.”  We’re sure that had nothing to do with spite.

So now it soon lands in the Supreme Court’s lap.  Interestingly, though the freight railroads argue that Amtrak is a “private corporation,” the case is Department of Transportation vs. Association of American Railroads.  How kind of the federal government to step in and take this case off the private corporations’ hands.

Anyway, according to Bloomberg, the Obama administration and the history of the creation of Amtrak itself contends that “Amtrak is subject to government oversight, is almost entirely owned by the U.S. government and receives taxpayer subsidies” and is, therefore, not to be viewed as a private entity.

chief zephyr

It’ll take some time to get this all sorted out (the Supreme Court doesn’t start their next term, which will hear this case, until October) so be prepared for a bit of bonus time the next time you ride the rails.  Wondering how your train has been doing lately?  Amtrak publishes that here.  The Washington Post did a story on Amtrak’s performance about a month ago with a few graphs and a nice map (they also suggest that “shoddy, out-of-date infrastructure is another leading cause of delays”).

Um, we guess the Supreme Court is supposed to be un-swayable, so we’re not sure if there’s really anything to do but sit back and wait on this one.  Just keep on advocatin’ like we are.

Or maybe write your Congressman to say that this poor on-time performance stuff is bullshit and Amtrak needs more funding because it’s a disgrace that we let our national infrastructure crumble right before our very eyes.  We’ve got your back, Amtrak!


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