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Highlights

Commuter and freight rail services have the potential to play increasingly important roles in the nation's economy and transportation system as demand for these services increases. Because the cost of building new infrastructure can be costprohibitive, commuter rail agencies typically seek to use existing infrastructure--which is primarily owned by private freight railroads. Consequently, commuter rail agencies must negotiate to purchase, lease, or pay to access the existing infrastructure from freight railroads. GAO was asked to examine (1) the challenges commuter rail agencies and freight railroads face when negotiating and sharing rights-of-way, (2) the actions that help facilitate mutually beneficial arrangements between commuter rail agencies and freight railroads, and (3) the role the federal government plays in negotiations between commuter rail agencies and freight railroads.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Surface Transportation Board 1. In order to facilitate and inform negotiations between commuter rail agencies and freight railroads, the Secretary of Transportation and the Chairman of the Surface Transportation Board should determine whether it would be appropriate and useful for them to provide guidance and information, such as tips for successful negotiations and information on best practices, availability of federal resources, and the applicability of the liability provisions in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997, to commuter rail agencies and freight railroads. If DOT and STB determine that it would be helpful for them to provide such information but that they lack the statutory authority to do so, DOT and STB should seek a legislative change to allow them to provide guidance and information to commuter rail agencies and freight railroads.
Closed - Implemented
STB could provide guidance to commuter rail agencies on negotiations with freight rail companies and has the statutory authority to do so. To date, no commuter rail agencies have sought information or guidance from STB on freight rail negotiations, although STB is ready to provide information and guidance if requested. STB is ready to discuss best practices in freight negotiations and provide commuter rail agencies with an understanding of the position of freight rail companies in sharing right-of-way.
Department of Transportation 2. In order to facilitate and inform negotiations between commuter rail agencies and freight railroads, the Secretary of Transportation and the Chairman of the Surface Transportation Board should determine whether it would be appropriate and useful for them to provide guidance and information, such as tips for successful negotiations and information on best practices, availability of federal resources, and the applicability of the liability provisions in the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997, to commuter rail agencies and freight railroads. If DOT and STB determine that it would be helpful for them to provide such information but that they lack the statutory authority to do so, DOT and STB should seek a legislative change to allow them to provide guidance and information to commuter rail agencies and freight railroads.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOT considered GAO's recommendation and determined that their role should not include providing the recommended guidance. DOT does not believe that such guidance would be useful in helping to resolve these uniquely local situations. DOT notes that a large body of expertise is available across the country to assist local authorities in meeting negotiation and management requirements.

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