Amtrak’s Anti-Consumer Forced Arbitration Clause Persist Despite Efforts of Public Citizen, Congress

Despite repeated efforts, Amtrak continues to require passengers to agree to an arbitration process to resolve claims against the rail service.

Amtrak added the Arbitration Agreement to the terms and conditions of its passenger tickets in 2019. The terms of the agreement state that it is “intended to be as broad as legally permissible, and, except as it otherwise provides, applies to all claims, disputes, or controversies, past, present, or future, that otherwise would be resolved in a court of law or before a forum other than arbitration.” In essence, the agreement forces all passengers who suffer injury from Amtrak to resolve their claims through a private arbitration process, not through the public courts system.

Forced arbitration can seriously limit consumers’ ability to win compensation for harm done by a corporation. Because the federal government owns a majority stake in Amtrak and it functions as a quasi-public corporation, some advocates contend that Amtrak’s Arbitration Agreement is unconstitutional and restricts citizens’ right to petition the government. (see Forced Arbitration)

In January of 2020, Public Citizen filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of two customers challenging the legality of Amtrak’s Arbitration Agreement. Because Amtrak is majority owned by the federal government, the plaintiffs argued that the Arbitration Agreement violated Americans’ rights to petition the government through the judicial system. The District Court dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds for lack of an actual injury-in-fact or imminent future (standing to bring the lawsuit), and an appeals court upheld the District Court’s decision, leaving the legal question of the Arbitration Agreement unresolved. (See Weissman v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.).

The lawsuit, however, along with a public letter penned by Public Citizen and signed by more than 30 consumer advocacy organizations and written testimony submitted to a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, brought Amtrak’s policy to the attention of lawmakers. Lawmakers in both houses introduced legislation to force Amtrak to amend their policy in 2020, and another bill was introduced in the Senate in 2021.

None were given a vote, and tickets purchased on Amtrak still carry a forced arbitration term that seriously restricts passengers’ ability to hold Amtrak accountable in court for injury or misconduct.