Court hearing set in Milford railroad-Pan Am dispute

The yearlong court battle for Milford-Bennington Railroad’s owner Rep. Peter Leishman to get back on the Pan Am track might finally be pulling into a key station, though it is by no means at the end of the line.A federal court judge has issued some preliminary decisions and scheduled a key hearing for July 1.Leishman, a former state representative, and Pan Am Railways have been battling politically for years over the future of rail in the state — a battle that has led Pan Am to charge that Leishman had used his position to help him secure a state lease for his line.But there was a business battle that going on long before that, over three miles of Pam Am-owned track, which enables Leishman’s railroad to reach Granite State Concrete, its sole customer. Milford-Bennington and Pam Am have been fighting over such railway rights since the 1980s and Milford-Bennington only won the right to use this stretch back in 1992.The business battle became more personal when Leishman himself was involved in running the train when it collided with a truck on that stretch in October 2009. No one was hurt in the crash and the police ticketed the truck, but Pan Am banned Leishman from the tracks. Pan Am charged that Leishman violated the rules requiring that the train be stopped and flaggers sent out before going though the intersection.Leishman disagreed, saying that such rules did not apply in this instance, and that it was a ploy to shut down him down. He also claimed that his railroad was denied proper appeal procedures and that the lifetime ban was excessive.(The ban only applies to Leishman, but since Leishman is one of the company’s two employees, it effectively knocks the railroad off the tracks.)Leishman and Milford-Bennington filed suit last June in state court. The suit quickly moved to federal court, where it has chugged along at the speed of an overloaded freight train.Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Paul J. Barbadoro issued his first substantive decision, denying Pan Am’s claims that the Surface Transportation Board has the final say in the matter. Barbadoro disagreed, saying the STB doesn’t have the right to “resolve disputes between rail carriers concerning the meaning and operation of trackage rights agreements.”What is in the agreement is key. Indeed, the judge set a hearing July 1 on that agreement and safety issues because the contract interpretation issues “lie at the heart of the case,” he said.On the other hand, Barbadoro agreed with Pan Am that it is the company, not Leishman, that has the right to sue, and threw out one count because it was repetitive of another.Thus far, there is no new date for the trial, which was supposed to start on June 7.

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