The Future of Amtrak Could be Threatened by Liability Issues

Liability concerns, Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a five-page letter to congressional leaders is “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.

“The core of the problem,” Boardman wrote, “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.”

Boardman warned that such attitudes – expecting Amtrak to assume increased liability for accidents – could force Amtrak to curtail or terminate existing state-supported services, because Amtrak cannot afford to accept higher liability limits.

Boardman specifically cited the situation in Florida with regard to CSX trackage the state intends to purchase and use to host new Sunrail commuter service.

“If Amtrak continues to operate service on this 61-mile rail line it exposes the citizens of California, Washington, and New York to paying for personal injury claims by Sunrail commuter passengers,” Boardman wrote.

“Amtrak recognizes that there are no easy solutions,” Boardman wrote, “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.”