MBTA sues Amtrak to derail $29 million demand for running Amtrak trains over T-owned tracks

The MBTA this week sued Amtrak over the $29 million Amtrak is demanding the authority pay for the right to have Amtrak keep running trains over Northeast Corridor tracks that are owned by the T.

The T warns that if it's forced to make the payments, it might have to take the money out of its already precariously financed mass-transit services.

In its complaint, filed this week in US District Court in Boston, the MBTA says a commission composed largely of representatives of states along the entire Northeast Corridor decided the MBTA had to start paying Amtrak fees for Northeast Corridor service.

This might make sense in other states, where Amtrak owns the tracks and deigns to let commuter-rail trains use them, but in Massachusetts, the T has owned the Northeast Corridor right of way since buying it from Penn Central in 1973.

The T says it has a longstanding contract with Amtrak in which Amtrak gets to use T-owned tracks along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Rhode Island at no charge - in exchange for the right to dispatch all trains on the line to speed its Acela train to and from points south.

Only Massachusetts and New York representatives on the commission voted against the proposal, which would save some states, including New York, money, while costing others, notably Massachusetts and New Jersey, millions of dollars a year, the MBTA says.

The T charges the new payment system represents a breach of contract:

Amtrak has repudiated the Attleboro Line Agreement. MBTA does not accept that repudiation.

MBTA is entitled to a declaration that Amtrak is in breach of the Attleboro Line
Agreement. MBTA also is entitled to an injunction requiring Amtrak to fulfill its obligations under that Agreement because an action for damages would provide an inadequate remedy for breach. Amtrak’s demand for significant, unanticipated payments could have adverse effects on the cost and/or quality of the services that MBTA provides its customers, resulting in a loss of
goodwill among MBTA’s customers and political constituents that cannot readily be calculated.

The T also makes several constitutional arguments against the new system, among them that the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission cannot impose such a compact because most of its board is appointed by governors and Amtrak itself, rather than the federal government, which violates the separation of powers and a clause that requires officials taking executive action to be appointed by the president.

Also, the T continues, the new policy violates the authority's right to due process because commission members from states that will save money were not disinterested parties in approving the new system - and neither were the four Amtrak appointees.

Part of the $29-million fee would fund capital projects the T would have no say in, the authority charges, questioning the fairness of making Massachusetts make up capital holes that Congress failed to fill.



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PDF icon MBTA complaint against Amtrak85.9 KB


Am I understanding this right?

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Amtrak wants the T to pay Amtrak in exchange for Amtrak using the T's tracks? Isn't that a bit like me charging my landlord rent for allowing me to live in my apartment?


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Amtrak owns and operates 363 miles of the 457-mile Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Washington
and Boston (a total of 1,219 track miles). Two sections are owned by others: 1) 56 miles on Metro
North between New Rochelle, N.Y., and New Haven, Conn.; 2) the state of Massachusetts owns 38
miles between the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border and Boston that is operated and maintained by
Amtrak. Amtrak also owns 62 miles of track between New Haven and Springfield, Mass., as well as
104 miles of track (274 track miles) between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.
The NEC is home to one of the busiest, most complex, and most technically advanced rail systems in
the world, with over 2,000 trains on Amtrak-controlled segments each weekday. This traffic mix
includes freight trains traveling at speeds of 30-50 mph, commuter trains at speeds up to 125 mph,
Amtrak Regional trains at 110 or 125 mph, and Acela Express trains that can reach 150 mph. This
makes it the fastest railroad in the Americas, and among the ten fastest in the world.
These trains all share tracks that often are overcrowded. Although the federally funded Northeast
Corridor Improvement Project in the early 1980s greatly modernized the capital facilities of the NEC,
very little was spent between 1990 and 2002, other than funds used to electrify the route north of New
Haven. That changed starting in 2003, with a new emphasis placed on bringing Amtrak’s equipment
and infrastructure closer to a state of good repair. Amtrak began the process of ramping up a
significant capital program and has made substantial progress in addressing the backlog of capital
needs throughout its system.
The state of good repair program continued in the current decade with stimulus funding. For the
future, Amtrak proposes a “Stair Steps” program to increase corridor speeds and capacity in the nearterm,
and a Next Generation High-Speed Rail program for the longer-term.
As a result of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), the Northeast
Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission was established, and Amtrak is
working regularly and collaboratively with the Commission and its members to define and realize a
vision for the future of this great regional rail transportation system.



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I thought this was serious until I got to the part about the train speeds.

I thought the exact same thing

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Acella gets made 65 mph on a good day. Also bragging about fastest train in North America is kind of like bragging about owning the most attractive warthog.

Not in MA between Boston and

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Not in MA between Boston and Providence - the Acela does hit 150mph (at least every time I have taken it, which is quite often). South of there though both the regional and Acela average like 60-70mph through CT and to NYC.

You ask why the T should have

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You ask why the T should have to pay to use its own tracks. From what I understand Amtrak is the one who is doing all the maintance on the tracks that T owns, T doesn't own all the NEC just a few miles of the track. The T is wanting Amtrak not to charge them, because it lets Amtrak run on their tracks in exchange. So Amtrak should let T run on all of its track lets say 240 miles for letting Amtrak run on 38 miles of track. Yep that makes so much since. T is in no way making out like a bandit. Nope not at all.

Everything I know I read in the complaint :-).

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At least based on what the T alleges, sounds like this commission came up with a new payment system that makes sense where Amtrak owns the tracks, which it mostly does everywhere except in Massachusetts, but they didn't/wouldn't account for that.

MBTA pays Keolis

to operate MBTA equipment on MBTA right of ways.

My reading is that Amtrak is operating a service and maintaining facilities in much the same way.

We do want train automatic braking systems deployed to prevent yet another train disaster, don't we?

This is completely different.

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This is completely different. Amtrak is operating Amtrak trains on Amtrak's behalf, while Keolis is operating MBTA trains on the MBTA's behalf.

On the NEC?

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On the NEC?


The agreement since 1973 has been that Amtrak can use the state-owned tracks for free in exchange for maintaining them.

This makes sense because they need to be maintained to a much higher standard for 150 mph high speed electric trains than 79 mph diesel commuter trains.

Electricity isn't a factor

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Electricity isn't a factor here, since the T doesn't run electric trains even though the tracks are electrified. (Which is ridiculous, but that's a separate issue.)

Amtrak makes all upgrades and

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Amtrak makes all upgrades and repairs to the track structure, signal system, dispatching control center Boston to the RI state line and even maintains the RTE 128 station platforms, elevators and escalators(which are all undergoing a reconstruction and near completion) without owning the station. The T owns the station and have let it fall to almost a state of total disrepair. But, Amtrak stepped in and partnered with the T to make the station viable. This also included new lighting, security and information displays which the T benefits from seeing that the RTE 128 station is one of their busiest on the Providence/Stoughton line.


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So a number of neighboring states and Amtrak have decided to allow us to pay for passage on our own tracks. And Amtrak, in defiance of a long-standing goodwill pact that allowed them free passage on our state-owned tracks, thought this was appropriate?

Come on, MBTA. Not paying Amtrak shouldn't be the goal. Go for the jugular.

Who do you think

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Owns, maintains and recently paid to have the entire track system replaced.

Gosh, seems like a trick question

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If you have info on that, please provide it.

But then, why are all the track failures the MBTA's responsibility? It was MBTA crews out there getting paid OT last winter, and it was coming from the MBTA's budget. Was it not?

Not on the Providence Line.

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Not on the Providence Line. Track fails there, Amtrak fixes it. Track fails everywhere else, T fixes it.

The only thing the T controls on the Providence Line between Boston and the state line are the stations themselves, save for Route 128 which is joint T/Amtrak responsibility.

This isn't news. This is how it's been since 1973.

Thanks for the info

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I agree nothing's changed since 1973, operationally, but now the MBTA is on the hook for $29m/year for use of... the Providence line?

Which was the agreement -

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Which was the agreement - they use our track for free, but they maintain them. Given Amtrak needs to keep the tracks at a much higher standard due to their higher speeds vs commuter rail, it makes sense.

The answer is No

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I can't wait till the Transit Police and the Amtrak Police duel over the lucrative details at South Station.

Might need Abraham Lincoln on the case...

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Seems like the solution might be to have Amtrak buy the right of way in return for a concessionary fee from the MBTA to run the commuter rail.

Is there some confusion here

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Is there some confusion here over what this payment is for? Could it be for the dispatching service Amtrak provides to the T?

This is separate from the question of whether $29 million is a fair price for that service.

Lemme see...

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Lemme see...

Amtrak is seeking a deal in which MA pays Amtrak for providing service on rails the MBTA owns. Hmmm....

Not that the current deal sounds too much better: Not charging Amtrak for the privilege of Amtrak providing service and controlling dispatching on rails the MBTA owns (other than maintenance)...

Fine! Here's what we do

IF the court doesn't rule in MBTA's favor.

Draw up an operating agreement that says $29,000,000 plus the cash value of the services Amtrak provides is now the new price that MBTA will charge them for rent.

How would a N-S rail link work?

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If a N-S rail link was constructed how with that work with this situation? Who would own it? Would the other members of the commission force the MBTA to pay for such a project? It certainly seems like an over reach. I wonder what Mike Dukakis thinks about this. If this is the case then perhaps Amtrak can end its service at Providence and passengers can transfer to CR into Boston. It was good that MA bought the RR ROW in 1973.

"Here's your $29M, now get

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"Here's your $29M, now get your trains off our tracks. Go build your own." I wonder how much disruption that would cause to Amtrak to not be able to send trains into Boston from any direction anymore.

Welcome to the fun world of...

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...intergovernmental "not it!"

There's a lengthy process going on since Congress mandated that new funding formulas for the Northeast Corridor shift more costs from Amtrak onto commuter railroads. I haven't followed it, but in this case it seems Mass. is just unlucky to have a completely different ownership/maintenance/dispatching situation than the rest of the NEC. This is such a messy and complex process (eight states, DC, eight commuter railroads/authorities/state DOTs), Amtrak, US DOT, Congress, etc.) that this sounds more like Mass. getting its grievances out where it feels it wasn't getting heard within the NEC commission. Never any guarantees, but my guess is this is far more of a warning shot than anything else.

Don't know for sure...

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...but the MNRR situation (New Rochelle-New Haven) is very different. There, MNRR does everything: maintains track, bridges, catenary, signals, stations and dispatches. Amtrak merely has what are called trackage rights in the railroad industry.

In Mass. it's an unusual set up where the property owner (MBTA) trades maintenance and dispatch for track access by the tenant railroad (Amtrak). Mass. has a lot of unique deals on it's railroad property with Pan Am and Amtrak on the Northside as well.

Once enough lawyers have argued with each other this'll get settled.

So, MBTA can take over

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So, MBTA can take over dispatch & maintenance. They can either let the maintenance slip for years since Commuter Rail doesn't require 150MPH, or they can charge Amtrak millions to keep it up. They can charge Amtrak rent for South Station, the yard space they use, even rent for the catanery structure. Amtrak can continue using Rte 128 station for free in exchange for maintenance.

Attleboro Trackage Rights Agreement

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The MBTA attempted to take over dispatching the NEC between Boston and Attleboro at the time the catenary project was winding down. The MBTA wanted dispatch control but not Maintainence of the wire. Then Amtrak Pres. David Gunn called The MBTA's bluff. He threatened to curtail the Amtrak service at Providence, would not operate into Massachusetts if Amtrak could not have control. MBTA would have needed to hire and train an entire Electric Traction Department to maintain the wire, they backed down
The Attleboro Agreement is a complicated document which also spells out Amtrak's and freight railroads scheduling rights. When the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project began in the 70s, the Feds poured money into the project and demanded states agree that all would play well in the sand box. In 1973 who could have or seen the financial crisis that our state and federal agencies are in.