Digest: Railroad assessing impact of hurricane

News Wire Digest second section for Aug. 27: Government says railroads bear burden of proof on communication in fuel-surcharge case; community may increase taxes to fund suit of Sound Transit
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More Thursday morning rail news:

Railroads, Surface Transportation Board monitoring impact of hurricane

Union Pacific, BNSF Railway,and Kansas City Southern are all monitoring impacts of Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in Louisiana this morning as a Category 4 hurricane but has weakened to a Category 2, which still brings 100-mph winds. Early reports show significant damage in the Lake Charles, La., area. In a customer advisory earlier this week, KCS said it expected the storm to halt cross-border traffic for about 36 hours, but would have crews standing by this morning to assess any repairs needed on its routes. BNSF and UP report that flood gates in New Orleans, closed earlier this week in advance of Hurricane Marco, remain closed, prohibiting railroad interchange in the city. BNSF shut down Houston-area intermodal and automotive facilities Wednesday, but anticipates reopening them today, while UP’s New Orleans-area intermodal facility at Avondale remains closed. The Surface Transportation Board reported it would be monitoring rail service disruptions caused by the hurricane and is prepared to use its emergency service authorities to address such problems.

DOJ says railroads must prove talks on fuel surcharges didn't violate antitrust law
Class I railroads being sued over fuel surcharges bear the burden of proof in showing communications over those charges were not in violation of federal antitrust law, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Bloomberg Law reports CSX, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, and BNSF are being sued by major customers over what the customers say is price-fixing dating to 2003 [see “More shippers file suits over railroad fuel surcharges,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 3, 2019]. The railroads argue the communications are protected under the Staggers act, which says carriers should not face antitrust action related to certain communications about prices. The Justice Department argument builds on one it offered earlier this summer [see “Digest: Transit agencies unite …,” July 15, 2020].  The series of suits, which were consolidated in February, are being heard in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Mercer Island, Wash., may raise taxes to fund lawsuit over Sound Transit facility
The city of Mercer Island, Wash., may impose a temporary utility tax increase to fund legal action against Sound Transit as part of a dispute over a bus-rail interchange in the city. The Mercer Island Reporter details a Mercer Island City Council letter saying the city has reached an impasse with the transit agency over design of the interchange, which it says will adversely impact traffic patterns and public safety. A letter from Sound Transit to Mercer Island’s city manager says, among other points, that the city’s insistence on mediation has been rejected because bus operator King County Metro is not a party to the mediation agreement and would not be bound by any decision. The proposed tax increase would cost the average ratepayer $50 per year, the newspaper reports.


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