Most Amtrak trains travel on tracks that Amtrak doesn’t own. The legislation that created Amtrak in 1970 included a provision that passenger trains should have priority over freight trains. But that provision has expired, and today, passengers often get stuck behind coal, oil, grain and other goods.
Congress tried to rectify this by passing legislation that would create standards of on-time performance to which the private railroads could be held. But that legislation gave Amtrak, in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration, responsibility for writing the rules.
Which led to the case argued today in the Supreme Court. Is Amtrak a government agency that has the authority to write regulations, or is it a private entity that would gain unfair advantage over other railroads by such actions?
It’s up to the Supreme Court to make this decision. Congress could also change the law to remove Amtrak’s authority to participate in the writing of on-time performance standards. We’ll see what the decision will be in the upcoming months.
UPDATED: Press coverage of the court’s deliberations: