Office of Rep. Marilyn Strickland press release.
On Oct. 27, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, joined Representative Conor Lamb (PA-17) and Subcommittee Chair Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) in introducing the Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate. This bicameral legislation would prohibit Amtrak from requiring forced arbitration agreements from customers, restoring passengers’ legal right to seek justice and accountability for their claims in the courts. (Read the bill text here.)
“Rail travel can reduce emissions, connect underserved communities, and bolster our economy, but these benefits should not come at the cost of passenger rights. When tragedy strikes, passengers deserve their day in court. I’m proud to join Representative Lamb, Representative Payne, Jr. and Senator Blumenthal in introducing legislation to restore the legal rights and protections of Amtrak riders and their families,” said Strickland, Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.
“Requiring forced arbitration agreements unfairly limits consumer rights and protections,” said Lamb, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “Congress needs to take action to restore the legal rights of Amtrak passengers and their families.”
“This bill will restore vital legal rights to the travelers who are injured on Amtrak trains and seek just redress,” said Blumenthal. “Amtrak’s current forced arbitration and class action ban policies are unjust and unfair. Riders are often unaware they’ve signed away their legal rights with the purchase of a ticket until the worst happens, like so many passengers impacted by the Montana crash discovered first hand. Legal accountability will be a powerful incentive to safer Amtrak practices.”
“This bill would ensure customers can pursue legal remedies in court and give them more options to resolve problems they experience with Amtrak travel,” said Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. “In addition, it would hold Amtrak more accountable for actions and issues that occur during rail travel.”
The Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act is endorsed by Public Citizen, American Association for Justice, National Disability Rights Network, and the National Association of Rail Passengers.
Amtrak implemented its forced arbitration and class action ban policy in January 2019, specifically writing it to be “as broad as legally permissible,” including discrimination and any personal injury claims. Under this change, with the purchase of an Amtrak ticket, customers waive their right to sue Amtrak in a U.S. court for any reason. The policy includes passengers who have tickets bought for them, including minors. Forced arbitration also discourages customers from filing complaints for smaller violations by instituting high fees and extended timelines. Airlines are already prohibited from using mandatory forced arbitration.
Amtrak put the policy in place after incidents like the 2015 train derailment in Philadelphia, PA and the 2017 derailment in DuPont, Washington, which resulted in multi-million dollar settlements for the victims. Following a derailment of an Amtrak train in Montana last month, several injured passengers have filed lawsuitsagainst Amtrak, which seek to challenge the company’s forced arbitration policy.