Congress created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, generally known as Amtrak, in 1970, and, with minor exceptions, Amtrak assumed the operations of intercity passenger train operations on May 1,1971, relieving the private railroads of their obligations to provide such services, which had become a significant financial burden as the rise of commercial aviation and the building of the interstate highway system reduced the demand for rail travel.
For over half a century, Amtrak has provided such services, sustained in part by federal subsidies. In this article, we examine empirical data from Docket Alarm Analytics regarding federal court litigation involving Amtrak over the last five years.
Docket Alarm has identified 419 proceedings involving Amtrak. This number includes 390 matters in federal District Court and 28 at the federal appellate level. At the District Court level, Amtrak is a plaintiff in only thirteen cases and the defendant in 376.
The most common category of claim is personal injury (151 claims), not surprising recognizing the exposure to physical injury to passengers and motorists in railroad related accidents. The second most common category is Federal Employers Liability (84 claims), which deals with personal injury to railroad workers in distinction to third parties. Civil rights claims (both employment-related and of a more general nature) collectively account for 40 claims. Other types of claims are relatively infrequent.
For the few cases where Amtrak serves as plaintiff, the largest case type is property damage, followed by land condemnation.
Landman Corsi Ballaine & Ford P.C. has represented Amtrak in 67 cases, by far and away Amtrak’s most commonly employed counsel, followed by Littler Mendelson P.C. (21 cases); Hohn & Scheuerle (17 cases); and Kiernan Trebach LLP (15 cases).
The cases are distributed in areas with high levels of Amtrak service, with the top jurisdiction being the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, followed by the Southern District of New York. Chicago’s Northern District of Illinois comes in third, and New Jersey and the District of Columbia round out the top five.
In the coming weeks, Law Street will feature a similar analysis of commercial railroads like Norfolk Southern.