A dispute over whether Massachusetts should pay Amtrak $29 million for Acela service over tracks the state owns got ugly this week when the national railroad filed a court document suggesting it might have to stop service north of Providence rather than continuing to deal with the "chronically delinquent" MBTA.
Amtrak made the suggestion in a counterclaim it filed over what it said were $175,000 in bills for Northeast Corridor station and track work in Massachusetts that the T was refusing to pay.
Amtrak and the T have long had a cost-sharing arrangement for the Northeast Corridor tracks between Rhode Island and South Station, which are owned by the state: The MBTA would pay for track repairs and maintenance while Amtrak would get to handle train dispatching on the line.
But a commission consisting of Northeast Corridor states and Amtrak last year voted to order Massachusetts to start paying for Amtrak service, as is done in other states - even though the other states don't own their tracks.
In January, the MBTA sued Amtrak in federal court in Boston to block imposition of the $29-million fee.
A judge agreed to delay any action until at least this week to try to let the two sides work out an agreement, but those talks failed.
This week Amtrak filed two responses to the suit: It said federal railroad law requires the T to appeal to a federal railroad board before going to court and asked a judge to dismiss the T suit.
More ominously for Amtrak riders, however, the railroad filed a counterclaim in which it said it might have to stop running trains north of Providence unless the T agrees to make payments
The counterclaim was over a total of $175,000 in bills for projects over several years along the corridor that involved work by Amtrak, which it says the T is now refusing to pay for:
MBTA’s refusal to honor its contractual payment obligations has resulted in financial harm to Amtrak, which could potentially jeopardize Amtrak’s ability to provide rail service in Massachusetts. Amtrak depends on timely payments from MBTA for services rendered to ensure its financial stability, fund its operations, and provide service to rail customers traveling to and from Massachusetts. No business partner should have to wait over five years to receive payment on a valid, authorized, and undisputed invoice that is contractually required to be paid within 30 days. Nor can a service provider be expected to continue to do business with a chronically delinquent business partner who refuses to pay its bills indefinitely, thereby effectively subsidizing the business partner with free service while jeopardizing its own financial health. Having exhausted its numerous efforts to secure payment, Amtrak is now left with no choice but to seek a remedy for MBTA’s breach of the [cost-sharing agreement] in this action.