Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen v. Federal Railroad Administration, No. 18-1235 (D.C. Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Two U.S. railroads began allowing engineers and conductors employed by their Mexican affiliates to operate trains on their tracks in the U.S. Railroads certify their own engineers and conductors, in compliance with minimum standards. The Federal Railroad Administration (49 U.S.C. 20135(a)) does not issue formal documentation approving a railroad’s written certification program but has a passive approval system. If the Administration does not notify the railroad that its written certification program fails to meet the minimum regulatory criteria, the program is considered approved. Because Mexican railroads do not meet the Administration standards, trains have traditionally switched crews at the border, a time-consuming practice.
Unions representing railroad employees filed suit, arguing that it was unlawful to approve a certification program permitting one railroad to certify employees of a foreign affiliate railroad that it does not control and for a certification program to deploy an abbreviated curriculum and training protocol to engineers with operating experience only in Mexico.
The D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded in part. The Administration’s approval of a railway’s revised engineer certification program that allows that railroad to use an abbreviated program to certify Mexican engineers is a final action subject to Hobbs Act jurisdiction. The court rejected a timeliness argument, stating that the Administration had “completely hidden its already obscured passive approval from public view.” The Administration failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its approval of the materially-altered certification program.