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Federal court denies Amtrak regulatory powers

Federal court denies Amtrak regulatory powers

A federal appeals court ruled on Friday for the second time that Congress cannot give Amtrak regulatory power over other private railroads and competitors.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said even though Amtrak is a public-private hybrid, it is unconstitutional to allow a passenger rail company with its own economic interests to impose rules on its rivals.

The court said Congress has a choice: “Its chartered entities may either compete, as market participants, or regulate, as official bodies.”

“To do both is an affront to ‘the very nature of things,’ especially due process,” the court wrote. 

Under a 2008 law, Amtrak was directed to work with federal regulators in crafting metrics and performance standards in order to ensure trains run on time. 

But the Association of American Railroads challenged Amtrak’s regulatory power in court. They said the law gives Amtrak an outsized role in setting standards for other railroads and blasted the standards for giving Amtrak priority over freight trains along common tracks.

The D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the Association of American Railroads, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision and sent the case back to be reconsidered, saying Amtrak was created with government oversight and public subsidies.

But the appeals court once again maintained that Amtrak cannot have regulatory power because the hybrid also aims to make a profit.

“There are limits to how far Congress may go to ensure Amtrak’s on-time performance,” the court wrote.