Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Amtrak to Congress: Liability is a nationwide concern

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Perhaps echoing liability concerns voiced frequently by North America's Class I freight railroads, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman has cited similar concerns “emerging as a significant obstacle to the improvement of existing passenger rail service and the development of new, including high speed and intercity corridor, passenger rail service in the United States.”

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Boardman, in a five-page letter to four congressional leaders dated Feb. 26, says in part, “The core of the problem is the unwillingness or inability of a growing number of entities, including states and other public bodies, to enter into the kind of agreements for risk allocation … and/or to purchase insurance at all or at sufficient levels …”

“Moreover, the attitude from a number of private parties and state entities alike seems to be that Amtak, in significant part because of its federal funding, should assume the greater share or risk of liability.” That, Boardman warned, could curtail or terminate state-supported services Amtrak currently provides.

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Boardman (pictured at right) specifically cited the potential difficulties involved (and reported earlier) “as the State of Florida seeks to purchase a CSX rail line in Central Florida and begin operation of its new Sunrail commuter service.”

Stressing the concern is of national import, Boardman notes, “If Amrak continues to operate service on this 61-mile rail line after Flroida close on its purchase from CSX, it exposes the citizens of California, Washington, and New York to paying for personal injury claims by Sunrail commuter passengers.”

Boardman addressed the letter to: Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), ranking member of the Commerce Committee; Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House T&I Committee.

“Amtrak recognizes that there are no easy solutions,”Boardman says, but “unless solutions are developed, the expansion of passenger rail service that both Congress and the Administration have decreed as an important policy directive will be delayed.”