General

Industry structure

How is the rail transport industry generally structured in your country?

The freight rail industry in the United States is almost all privately owned. Unlike in some jurisdictions where separate entities control rail infrastructure and rail operations, in the United States rail infrastructure and operations over that infrastructure are typically controlled by the same entity. Railways may also enter into agreements with one another to share infrastructure or operations on a line. For example, a railway may have trackage rights to operate its trains over the lines of another railway or switching agreements whereby another railway agrees to provide switching access to a customer facility. These arrangements are typically voluntary, but there are limited circumstances in which a railway may be forced to give another railway access to its infrastructure. (See question 19.)

Freight railways are categorised as Class I, Class II or Class III based on their annual operating revenue. Railways with over US$463 million in annual revenue are Class I railways that are subject to more rigorous regulation and reporting requirements. The seven Class I railways are BNSF Railway Co; CSX Transportation, Inc; Grand Trunk Corporation (the US affiliate of Canadian National Railway); Kansas City Southern Railway Co; Norfolk Southern Railway Co; Soo Line Corporation (the US affiliate of Canadian Pacific Railway); and Union Pacific Railroad Company. In addition, there are over 550 Class II and Class III railways in the United States, which include regional railways, switching and terminal railways, and short-line railways.

Passenger rail is largely government owned or supported. The largest passenger system is the National Railway Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), which is owned by the federal government and provides intercity passenger rail service. Amtrak owns and controls some rail lines and infrastructure, particularly on the ‘Northeast Corridor’ between Washington, DC, and Boston. Outside the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak trains typically operate over the lines of freight railways. Some other intercity passenger systems are in various stages of development. The privately owned Brightline in Florida recently began operations between West Palm Beach and Miami, and plans to extend service north to Orlando. Other private intercity passenger systems have been proposed in various states, and construction has begun on a state-supported high-speed rail system in California.

There are also numerous commuter railways that transport passengers in and around a single metropolitan region. Commuter railways are typically supported by state and local governments, and often operate over rail lines owned by other railways.

Ownership and control

Does the government of your country have an ownership interest in any rail transport companies or another direct role in providing rail transport services?

In general, the US government is a regulator of freight rail services, not a provider. A very small number of short-line freight railways are owned by state and local governments, most of whom purchased them from private railways in order to preserve rail service. In the passenger sphere, the federal government owns Amtrak, and state and local governments often own or financially subsidise commuter railways.

Are freight and passenger operations typically controlled by separate companies?

In general, US railways carry either freight or passengers, but not both. There is no regulatory prohibition against a railway transporting both freight and passengers, however, and historically this was a common practice. As discussed in question 1, many rail lines host operations by both freight railways and passenger or commuter railways.

Regulatory bodies

Which bodies regulate rail transport in your country, and under what basic laws?

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) regulates most non-safety-related rail transport issues, including rates, service, entry and exit, and transactions involving rail carriers. The STB succeeded to the functions of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1996. The Interstate Commerce Act and regulations promulgated by the STB govern these issues. The Interstate Commerce Act dates back to 1887, and it has been subject to several significant amendments that substantially changed the scope of rail regulation. The most relevant amendments for railways today are the Staggers Rail Act (which partially deregulated the rail industry) and the ICC Termination Act (which further deregulated the industry and transferred the ICC’s remaining functions to the STB).

The Department of Transportation, through several of its component agencies, is the safety regulator of the railway industry. Chief among these agencies is the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The primary laws governing rail safety are the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and safety regulations promulgated by the FRA. Other disparate laws affect rail safety, such as the Safety Appliances Act, Hours of Service Act and Rail Safety Improvement Act.

Commuter railways are outside the jurisdiction of the STB. They are regulated on the safety side by the FRA and in other areas by the Federal Transit Administration.

Amtrak was originally established by the Rail Passenger Service Act. While Amtrak is statutorily exempt from most STB regulation, the STB retains jurisdiction over other intercity passenger railways that operate in more than one state or that otherwise connect to the interstate rail network.

Market entry

Regulatory approval

Is regulatory approval necessary to enter the market as a rail transport provider? What is the procedure for obtaining approval?

In general, regulatory approval from the STB is required to enter the market as a rail transport provider, whether by constructing a new line or by acquiring existing rail lines. The STB has authority to grant approval upon application to the agency, and it also has the power to issue exemptions from the obligation to file a full application. The STB can exempt a person or transaction if it finds that formal regulation is not necessary to carry out the national transportation policy, and either the transaction or service is of limited scope or regulation is not needed to protect shippers from the abuse of market power. The STB can grant petitions for exemption in individual cases, and it has also established ‘class exemptions’ that allow parties to forgo the application process for certain types of transactions.

The type of regulatory process that is required varies based on the type of transaction and the identity of the new entrant (and particularly on whether or not it already controls a railway). See question 6 for the process required to acquire an existing rail carrier or line of railway, and see question 7 for the process required to construct a new line of railway.

Is regulatory approval necessary to acquire control of an existing rail transport provider? What is the procedure for obtaining approval?

The process for regulatory approval differs for acquisitions by a non-carrier and acquisitions by an existing rail carrier. A non-carrier (ie, an entity that does not own and is not affiliated with any rail carrier) may acquire control of an existing carrier through a stock purchase without approval or exemption by the STB. Because such a transaction does not require STB approval, it may be subject to pre-merger notification and waiting period requirements under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act. This Act requires persons contemplating mergers or acquisitions meeting certain jurisdictional thresholds to notify the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice and wait a specific period of time (usually 30 days) before consummating a proposed acquisition. If the reviewing agency believes that a proposed transaction may violate the antitrust laws, it may seek an injunction in federal court to prohibit consummation of the transaction.

A non-carrier acquiring control of an existing carrier through an asset purchase can obtain STB authorisation through a class exemption. Under these streamlined procedures, non-carriers may file a verified notice providing specified details about the transaction. The class exemption will be effective 30 to 45 days after the notice is filed (depending on the size of the new carrier). Potential opponents may seek to revoke the exemption for cause, but a petition to revoke does not automatically stay the exemption. If the projected annual revenue of the rail lines to be acquired or operated, together with the acquirer’s projected annual revenue, exceeds US$5 million, the applicant must post a notice of the proposed transaction at least 60 days in advance.

Transactions involving combinations of two or more rail carriers are subject to more stringent regulatory review. The STB classifies proposed transactions involving more than one rail carrier as major, significant, minor or exempt. Major transactions involve the merger of two or more Class I railways, and significant transactions are those that do not involve the merger of two or more Class I railways but that are found to be ‘of regional or national transportation significance’. Exempt transactions are those for which the agency has found that regulation is not necessary to carry out the national rail transportation policy, and thus has adopted a class exemption (eg, the acquisition of non-connecting carriers and trackage rights agreements). Transactions that are not major, significant or exempt are minor transactions.

Major, significant and minor transactions all require applications of varying complexity. Applicants in major and significant transactions must submit a pre-filing notification describing the proposed transaction for publication in the Federal Register. The STB’s rules prescribe the information to be included in the notice and the application, which differs based on the type of transaction. The STB also will establish a procedural schedule allowing interested parties to comment and to request conditions, submit responsive applications or seek other relief. The procedural schedule will allow the evidentiary proceeding to be completed within one year for major transactions, 180 days for significant transactions and 105 days for minor transactions, with a final decision to be issued within 45 to 90 days thereafter.

The STB is required by statute to approve significant and minor transactions unless it finds both that the transaction is likely to cause substantial lessening of competition and that the anticompetitive effects of the transaction outweigh the public interest in meeting significant transport needs.

Major transactions, by contrast, may only be approved if the STB finds the transaction is ‘consistent with the public interest’. A 2001 STB policy statement on major transactions indicates that the agency does not favour Class I consolidations that reduce transport alternatives ‘unless there are substantial and demonstrable public benefits to the transaction that cannot otherwise be achieved’, including ‘improved service, enhanced competition, and greater economic efficiency’. No major transactions have been completed since the STB issued its 2001 policy statement.

Parties to transactions that qualify for a class exemption must file a verified notice of the transaction with the STB at least 30 days before the transaction is consummated. The notice must specify which class exemption applies to the transaction, certify whether or not the proposed transaction involves any ‘interchange commitments’ that may limit future interchange with connecting carriers, and provide specified information about such commitments. Potential opponents may seek to revoke the exemption for cause, but a petition to revoke does not automatically stay the exemption.

The STB has the authority to place conditions on its approval of a transaction. These conditions are required to include labour protections for workers affected by the transaction, and they also may contain environmental mitigation or measures to preserve competitive options.

Is special approval required for rail transport companies to be owned or controlled by foreign entities?

The STB’s standards for review and approval of acquisitions, ownership and control of rail carriers do not distinguish between domestic and foreign entities. However, applicants for a major merger that would involve transnational operations are required to address certain cross-border issues in their application. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States may also review a transaction that would result in a foreign entity controlling a US railway.

Is regulatory approval necessary to construct a new rail line? What is the procedure for obtaining approval?

Construction of new rail lines that extend a railway into new territory require regulatory approval or exemption by the STB, whether the construction is proposed by a new carrier or an existing carrier. However, no STB approval is needed for an existing carrier to construct ancillary tracks to facilitate service on its existing lines. For example, no STB approval is needed to construct passing sidings or side tracks along existing tracks or to construct additional yard tracks.

The STB must authorise a new rail line construction project unless it finds it to be ‘inconsistent with the public convenience and necessity’. The STB may impose modifications or conditions it finds to be ‘necessary in the public interest’.

Parties seeking approval for new rail line construction may either submit an application to the STB, including the information specified by the agency’s rules (49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1150), or submit an individual petition for exemption. Under either approach, parties must comply with the STB’s energy and environmental regulations (including consulting with the STB at least six months in advance to identify environmental issues). The STB must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act before granting a construction application or petition for exemption, which typically will require an environmental impact statement.

Market exit

Discontinuing a service

What laws govern a rail transport company’s ability to voluntarily discontinue service or to remove rail infrastructure over a particular route?

A rail carrier may not abandon or discontinue operations over any part of its railway lines unless the STB finds that the ‘present or future public convenience and necessity require or permit the abandonment or discontinuance’.

Railways can submit applications to abandon or discontinue service, which the STB shall grant if it finds that the public convenience and necessity standard is satisfied. Abandonment is generally accomplished through a class exemption that permits abandonment of any line that has been out of service for two years or more. Abandonment can also be sought through a petition for exemption.

After an abandonment application or notice of class exemption is filed, any person (including a government entity) may submit an offer of financial assistance to subsidise or purchase the rail line at issue. If the STB finds that one or more financially responsible persons have offered financial assistance for the operation of the rail line at issue, the abandonment or discontinuance shall be postponed until the parties have reached agreement on a transaction for subsidy or sale of the line, or the conditions and amount of compensation are established by the STB.

Parties also have an opportunity to request that a line proposed for abandonment be set aside for interim trail use or offered for sale to be used for public purposes. Interim trail use is only permitted if the abandoning railway consents and the trail proponent agrees to certain conditions (including that rail service could be reactivated on the corridor). While the STB may impose a condition that the property be offered for sale for public purposes over a railway’s objection, it cannot force such a sale, and such a condition may not be in place for more than 180 days, after which the abandoning railway is free to sell the property to whomever it chooses.

On what grounds, and what is the procedure, for the government or a third party to force a rail transport provider to discontinue service over a particular route or to withdraw a rail transport provider’s authorisation to operate? What measures are available for the authorisation holder to challenge the withdrawal of its authorisation to operate?

The same legal standard (public convenience and necessity) governs applications for abandonment and discontinuation of service filed by third parties seeking to force a railway to abandon a line. (Such third-party abandonment is often called adverse abandonment.) The STB must consider the impact of abandonment on all interested parties, including the railway, shippers who have used the line and the community involved. In general, the STB will not grant adverse abandonment where the incumbent railway or shippers on the line can demonstrate a need for continued rail service.

A rail carrier opposing adverse abandonment has the right to contest abandonment before the STB and to seek judicial review if necessary.

Insolvency

Are there sector-specific rules that govern the insolvency of rail transport providers, or do general insolvency rules apply? Must a rail transport provider continue providing service during insolvency?

A special subchapter of the Bankruptcy Code (11 US Code Subchapter IV - Railway Reorganization) applies to railway bankruptcies and reorganisations. This subchapter requires the bankruptcy court and the trustee to ‘consider the public interest’ in addition to the interests of the debtor, creditors and equity security holders.

A railway in bankruptcy may be required to continue operations until it is authorised to abandon some or all of its lines, or until it is liquidated. But courts have recognised that in some situations a railway that has insufficient funds to pay its employees and suppliers simply cannot operate, thus preventing an orderly liquidation.

Competition law

Competition rules

Do general and sector-specific competition rules apply to rail transport?

Both general and sector-specific competition rules apply to rail carriers, with some exceptions. A rail carrier engaged in a multi-carrier transaction approved by the STB is exempt from the antitrust laws (and ‘all other law’) as necessary to allow it to carry out the approved transaction. This means, for example, that a rail carrier engaged in a merger approved by the STB cannot be found liable for violating the antitrust laws simply for carrying out that merger. Similarly, rates for rail transport, which are subject to STB rate regulation in some cases, cannot be challenged under the antitrust laws.

Regulator competition responsibilities

Does the sector-specific regulator have any responsibility for enforcing competition law?

The STB does not enforce federal antitrust laws, although it may consider antitrust principles in assessing whether a particular transaction should be approved or exempted.

Competition assessments

What are the main standards for assessing the competitive effect of a transaction involving rail transport companies?

The STB’s principal concerns in such cases are the preservation of competitive rail service where it exists and the enhancement of rail competition wherever possible. The STB is particularly focused on avoiding or remediating any situation where a transaction would reduce the number of competitors from two to one, and to a lesser extent, from three to two. The STB usually requires that competitive rail service by at least two rail carriers be maintained wherever it existed before a merger or control transaction.

Price regulation

Types of regulation

Are the prices charged by rail carriers for freight transport regulated? How?

The STB regulates some prices for freight transport, but it does not have jurisdiction to regulate (i) rates that are agreed to in rail transport contracts; (ii) rates for transportation that is subject to ‘effective competition’ from another railway or mode of transportation; and (iii) rates with a revenue to variable cost ratio (R/VC) of 180 per cent or less. The R/VC is calculated by dividing the challenged rate by the variable costs for the movement as calculated by an STB costing model called the Uniform Rail Costing System. In addition, the STB has granted commodity exemptions that preclude rate or other regulation of various commodities that have been determined to be subject to effective competition; however, the STB retains the power to revoke these exemptions in whole or for particular movements.

Shippers wishing to challenge rates that do not fall within the above categories have the right to file a rate reasonableness complaint with the STB (see question 17).

Are the prices charged by rail carriers for passenger transport regulated? How?

The STB has statutory authority to determine the reasonableness of passenger rates for intercity transport that is within its jurisdiction, but it has never done so and has no rules governing such determinations. Amtrak is exempt from STB jurisdiction and the prices it charges are unregulated. There are no generally applicable rules as to the fares charged by commuter rail lines, although state and local laws may apply.

Is there a procedure for freight shippers or passengers to challenge price levels? Who adjudicates those challenges, and what rules apply?

For traffic that is subject to rate regulation (see question 15), shippers may file a complaint with the STB asking it to rule that the rate is unreasonably high. The STB has adopted several methodologies to adjudicate rate complaints, the most commonly used of which is the stand-alone cost (SAC) test. Other available methodologies that have been used by the STB include a simplified SAC methodology and a three benchmark methodology designed for use in smaller cases. A shipper that successfully proves that its rate was unreasonable under its chosen methodology may receive reparations for rates paid above the maximum reasonable level and a prescription requiring the railway to charge a lower rate in the future. The STB has several active proceedings in which it is considering potential changes to its rate methodologies.

Must rail transport companies charge similar prices to all shippers and passengers who are requesting similar service?

No, unless the shippers are requesting identical service (eg, the same types of shipments between the same origins and destinations) and the railway cannot identify another sound reason for pricing the identical services differently.

Network access

Sharing access with other companies

Must entities controlling rail infrastructure grant network access to other rail transport companies? Are there exceptions or restrictions?

In general, entities controlling rail infrastructure are not required to grant network access to other rail providers. One important exception is for Amtrak: freight railways are required to grant Amtrak access to their network at Amtrak’s request. The STB has authority to impose various forms of network access upon complaint, but under the STB’s current rules such relief is only granted if the agency finds an abuse of market power or a service failure. The STB also sometimes imposes network access as a condition to a transaction in order to mitigate a loss of competition that might otherwise result from a merger.

While in most instances railways are not required to give other railways network access, they must cooperate with other railways to allow for the uninterrupted flow of traffic over the national rail network. Railways are required to provide switch connections to the track of other railways, to accept traffic from other railways where necessary to complete rail service, to provide reasonable facilities for interchanging traffic with other railways, and to establish reasonable through routes with other railways.

Access pricing

Are the prices for granting of network access regulated? How?

Prices for network access are negotiated in the first instance by the railways involved. If the railways cannot agree on pricing, the STB has jurisdiction to set a price. The STB has not established a uniform methodology for pricing network access.

Competitor access

Is there a declared policy on allowing new market entrants network access or increasing competition in rail transport? What is it?

There is no declared policy specifically regarding access for new market entrants. The Rail Transportation Policy in the Interstate Commerce Act encourages the STB to allow competition and the demand for services to establish reasonable rates to the maximum extent possible. The STB’s policy statement regarding Class I mergers encourages proposals that would enhance competition, in part to offset other possible harm that could arise from such transactions.

Service standards

Service delivery

Must rail transport providers serve all customers who request service? Are there exceptions or restrictions?

Freight railways have a common carrier obligation to provide service to freight customers upon reasonable request. Common carriers generally cannot discriminate in providing service and must respond to reasonable requests for service.

Generally, Amtrak and commuter railways do not have a federal common carrier obligation but may be subject to certain other state or federal legal requirements that limit their ability to refuse service to potential customers.

Are there legal or regulatory service standards that rail transport companies are required to meet?

Freight railways do not have specific service standards required by law or regulation, but they are required to provide service upon reasonable request, and to establish reasonable rules and practices for providing service. Railways are also required to maintain a safe and adequate supply of rail cars. The STB requires Class I railways to regularly report on various service metrics.

Challenging service

Is there a procedure for freight shippers or passengers to challenge the quality of service they receive? Who adjudicates those challenges, and what rules apply?

Freight shippers can bring complaints to the STB alleging that a railway is engaging in an unreasonable practice or is violating its common carrier or car supply obligations. The STB’s rules allow each party to present evidence and arguments, after which the STB will make its decision.

In service emergencies where a railway is not providing adequate service, the STB has the power to issue emergency service orders that temporarily direct the handling of traffic or order another railway to provide service (see 49 USC section 11123). These emergency service orders may be in place for a maximum of 270 days. This emergency authority has rarely been used.

Safety regulation

Types of regulation

How is rail safety regulated?

Freight, passenger and commuter rail are all subject to federal regulation, primarily by the FRA.

The FRA also uses broader authority granted by the FRSA to ‘promote safety in every area of railway operations and reduce railway-­related accidents and incidents’ (49 USC Section 20101). The FRA typically promulgates regulations in the CFR under the authority granted by these statutes. These detailed regulations include standards for inspection, types of equipment, hours of work, operations and record-keeping. The FRA enforces these rules and regulations through inspections and by issuing notices and civil penalties for any violations. The FRA can also issue emergency orders under certain circumstances to initiate immediate actions (49 USC section 20104).

Some relevant statutory provisions and FRA regulations specifically reference and incorporate standards set by the Association of American Railways (AAR) - an industry association - as a minimum or safe harbour for compliance with the FRA’s regulations.

Broadly speaking, if the FRA has issued regulations on a rail safety issue, the FRSA pre-empts state or local regulations on that issue. If the FRA has not acted, in some circumstances states may issue more stringent regulations to address an essentially local safety or security hazard.

 

Competent body

What body has responsibility for regulating rail safety?

The FRA. In addition, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has some oversight over hazardous materials moved by rail, and the Transportation Safety Administration has some oversight where safety and security concerns overlap. The Federal Transit Administration does not have direct safety oversight of railways, but does work with commuter railways on some safety issues, including technical assistance. Finally, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may issue non-binding recommendations after investigations (see question 30).

Manufacturing regulations

What safety regulations apply to the manufacture of rail equipment?

Federal statutes (see, eg, 49 USC section 20701 et seq; 49 USC section 20133; 49 USC section 20155) and multiple FRA regulations (see, eg, 49 CFR Parts 215, 221, 223, 224, 229, 231 and 232) apply safety standards for freight cars, passenger cars, locomotives, and other rolling stock, many of which require actions by the manufacturer for such equipment to be used by US railways. The PHMSA also has regulatory authority over rail equipment used to move hazardous materials.

There are also AAR standards for equipment that AAR members comply with and that are sometimes incorporated in regulation.

Maintenance rules

What rules regulate the maintenance of track and other rail infrastructure?

Federal statutes (see, eg, 49 USC section 20142; 49 USC section 20134) and multiple FRA regulations (see, eg, 49 CFR Parts 213, 232, 233 and 237) address the maintenance of track, signal systems and other rail infrastructure.

What specific rules regulate the maintenance of rail equipment?

Federal statutes and multiple FRA regulations address the maintenance of rail equipment, including required inspections and reporting on such inspections. Some of the most relevant provisions by equipment type are:

  • locomotives: 49 USC section 20702 and 49 CFR Part 229;
  • freight cars: 49 CFR Part 215;
  • passenger cars: 49 USC section 20133 and 49 CFR Part 238; and
  • brakes: 49 CFR Part 232.

Accident investigations

What systems and procedures are in place for the investigation of rail accidents?

Railways are required to report all accidents to the FRA. The FRA investigates serious train accidents, including all accidents involving fatalities to railway employees or contractors. No part of a report of an FRA accident investigation may be admitted as evidence in a suit for damages for the accident.

The NTSB also investigates major transport accidents, including train accidents. Investigations are conducted by NTSB staff, who designate parties to participate in the investigation. The NTSB will issue a factual report, including a determination of probable cause for the accident and any safety recommendations. To ensure that NTSB investigations focus only on improving transport safety, the NTSB’s analysis of factual information and its determination of probable cause cannot be entered as evidence in a court of law. Unlike the FRA, the NTSB does not have direct regulatory authority over railways to mandate compliance with any safety recommendations it makes. However, NTSB recommendations typically carry persuasive weight, and they may be implemented by other regulatory agencies.

Accident liability

Are there any special rules about the liability of rail transport companies for rail accidents, or does the ordinary liability regime apply?

There is a statutory limitation on liability for injury, death or damage to property of a passenger arising in connection with the provision of rail passenger transport of US$200 million (49 USC section 28103). The US$200 million liability limit applies to all awards to all passengers from all defendants arising from a single accident or incident. There is no similar limitation on damages arising from freight operations.

Financial support

Government support

Does the government or government-controlled entities provide direct or indirect financial support to rail transport companies? What is the nature of such support (eg, loans, direct financial subsidies, or other forms of support)?

Government entities provide little or no direct financial support to freight rail carriers, although carriers sometimes benefit indirectly from broad-based tax policies and incentives. Freight rail carriers sometimes partner with states and regional authorities on an ad hoc basis to finance major transport infrastructure investments and improvements. In addition, the Department of Transport administers the Railway Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing programme, through which low-interest, long-term loans can be obtained to finance freight or passenger projects.

On the passenger side, Amtrak is subsidised by the federal government, and state and local governments often own or financially subsidise commuter railways. Moreover, some short-line railways are owned by state and local governments. The nature of financial support for these commuter railways and short lines varies widely, and may include loans, tax benefits and direct financial subsidies.

Requesting support

Are there sector-specific rules governing financial support to rail transport companies and is there a formal process to request such support or to challenge a grant of financial support?

There are no sector-specific rules governing financial support to rail carriers. The processes for requesting or challenging such support are ad hoc and case by case. As noted in question 32, most passenger and commuter railways receive some form of public subsidy.

Labour regulation

Applicable labour and employment laws

Are there specialised labour or employment laws that apply to workers in the rail transport industry, or do standard labour and employment laws apply?

Labour relations between rail carriers and their employees are governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which sets forth specialised labour laws that are broadly applicable to freight railways; Amtrak; select commuter railways that retain some freight rail functions; and entities that provide services related to rail transport for which there is common ownership or control between the entity and an RLA carrier. The RLA generally does not apply to any wholly intra-state railways, including street, interurban or suburban electric railways. When the RLA applies, it occupies the entire field of rail labour law and preempts state labour laws entirely.

The RLA differs significantly from standard federal labour laws set forth in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Unlike the NLRA, one of the RLA’s main purposes is to avoid any interruption to interstate commerce. As such, the RLA prescribes an elaborate scheme of mandatory and time-consuming procedures that must take place before self-help measures are permitted. The RLA imposes a positive duty on both carriers and employees to exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain collective bargaining agreements and to settle all disputes. The RLA creates federal entities, including the National Mediation Board and the National Railway Adjustment Board, for adjudicating disputes under the Act. Actions to enforce the RLA can be litigated in federal court.

Environmental regulation

Applicable environmental laws

Are there specialised environmental laws that apply to rail transport companies, or do standard environmental laws apply?

In general, standard federal environmental laws apply to rail transport companies. The Environmental Protection Agency has specialised rules governing locomotive emissions. Both the FRA and STB are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires agencies to consider the environmental impact of any major federal action. As such, any matter that requires agency action (such as approval of an application or the grant of an exemption) is subject to an environmental review of the impact of the action.

Many state and local regulations, including environmental regulations, are inapplicable to railways because of the pre-emption provisions of the ICC Termination Act. Whether a particular state or local regulation is pre-empted by federal law must be analysed case by case.

Update and trends

Update and trends

Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in your jurisdiction?

Positive train control (PTC) technology is intended to limit accidents caused by human error by monitoring all trains on the PTC network and automatically stopping trains that are exceeding speed restrictions, that are travelling on the wrong track or that otherwise are outside appropriate parameters. Railways are required by statute to install PTC on all lines that carry passenger traffic or that transport certain volumes of toxic-by-inhalation chemicals.

Current law requires railways to begin operating under PTC by 31 December 2018, unless the FRA grants an extension of that deadline (which may be no more than two years). To receive an extension, railways are required to apply to the FRA and demonstrate substantial progress in installing PTC. It is expected that most railways will need to request this extension.