Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Regional Transportation Authority, No. 22-1445 (7th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
An Illinois state agency oversees Metra, a railroad with passenger service over lines radiating from Chicago. For three lines, Metra owns the rolling stock, while Union Pacific supplies the track, the workforce, and ticket sales. Ticket revenue goes to Metra, which pays UP for its services. UP notified Metra that it would discontinue its services. Metra replied that UP cannot drop the service unless relieved of its obligations by the Surface Transportation Board. Metra argued that UP is locked into its relationship with Metra because the 1995 ICC Termination Act repealed 49 U.S.C. 10908, 10909, the only statutes giving the Board authority over the discontinuation of passenger service. UP argued that the repeal deregulated passenger rail service so that railroads can end passenger service when business considerations dictate. Federal law requires the Board’s permission to abandon all service over a line of track but UP will continue freight service; the lines will not be abandoned.
The district court declined to defer to the Board’s primary jurisdiction because the dispute does not require any findings of fact by an agency. The Board agreed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in favor of UP. The controlling contract has long expired. Any reduction in service, therefore, depends on “compliance with all applicable statutory and regulatory provisions.” To the extent that UP is a common carrier—rather than an independent contractor of Metra—it has unfettered authority to discontinue any service without the Board’s approval if it keeps the rails in place and continues running some trains.