A trial court ruling has upheld the position of the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority (JRA) related to the process of selecting its next operator – that a July 8, 2015 vote was not sufficient to award the operating agreement to a particular proposer.
This ruling is one in a long line of efforts by the JRA to finalize its next, long-term operating agreement. After considering the issue since as far back as 2009, the JRA formally initiated a Request for Proposals process in May 2014 to select an operator to continue rail service on its lines after its current agreement expires (June 30, 2017).
This process ultimately resulted in two high quality operators as the top contenders for the role: JRA’s current operator, Susquehanna Union Rail Company (SURC) (and its affiliated North Shore Railroad companies), and Carload Express.
Throughout the RFP process, the JRA has taken the position that nine votes in favor of a particular proposer would be necessary to select the next operator. The JRA implemented this nine-vote standard based on its interpretation of the applicable law, as well as in recognition that the standard was necessary to ensure adequate representation by members of all of the counties serviced by the JRA’s 200-plus miles of rail lines.
After a disagreement on whether a 7-3 vote on July 8, 2015 to award the RFP to Carload Express was legally effective, the JRA sought an independent determination of the issue from the trial court. The trial court agreed. It held that the JRA was within its rights, and appropriately interpreted governing law, in applying the nine-vote standard.
“The SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority is pleased with the detailed attention that the court gave to this matter and in reaching its decision,” said Jeff Stover, JRA executive director.
Stover emphasized this decision does not determine the next operator for the rail lines, and any one of the other parties may pursue an appeal. However, the court’s decision continues to vest the discretion to select an operator with the JRA.
“The Authority looks forward to continuing to further its mission of regional industrial development in light of the two highly qualified operators before us,” said JRA Chair John Showers.
Rail operations will continue while the matter is further considered. The JRA recently entered into agreements with both Carload Express and SURC to acknowledge the extension of the existing operating agreement until the issues are fully considered by the courts.
Based on the court’s decision, the JRA expects to meet in the near future to examine the appropriate process and timing for continuing its consideration of this important issue.