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PITTSBURGH & LAKE ERIE RAILROAD COMPANY v. PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION (05/26/82)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: May 26, 1982.

THE PITTSBURGH & LAKE ERIE RAILROAD COMPANY, PETITIONER
v.
PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT. COUNTY OF FAYETTE, PETITIONER V. PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT. COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION ET AL., INTERVENORS

Appeals from the Order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in the case of Investigation upon the Commission's own motion into the matters relating to the structural adequacy and load-carrying capacity of the bridge carrying State Highway Route No. 26191 over and above the grade of tracks of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company in the Township of Perry, Fayette County, as pertains to the proper service, accomodation, convenience and safety of the travelling public utilizing same, No. I-77110278.

COUNSEL

Richard A. Porach, for petitioner, The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company.

Philip T. Warman, for petitioner, County of Fayette.

John J. Gallagher, Assistant Counsel, with him Alfred N. Lowenstein, Deputy Chief Counsel, and Joseph J. Malatesta, Jr., Chief Counsel, for respondent.

George D. Wenick, Associate Counsel, with him Jordan S. Weltman, Eckert, Seamans, Cherin and Mellott, for intervenors.

President Judge Crumlish and Judges Blatt and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt. Judge Mencer did not participate in the decision in this case. Judge Palladino did not participate in the decision in this case. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Blatt

[ 66 Pa. Commw. Page 611]

The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company (P&LE) and the County of Fayette (Fayette) have separately appealed a Public Utility Commission (PUC) final order imposing certain bridge rehabilitation costs upon them. We affirm*fn1 the PUC order in each case.

Layton Bridge, in Perry Township, Fayette County, carries State Highway Route 26191 over P&LE's single track right-of-way and the Youghiogheny River, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) has maintained the bridge under legislative mandate*fn2 and a 1969 PUC order. Because of the deterioration of the bridge's wooden deck, the PUC

[ 66 Pa. Commw. Page 612]

    directed an immediate weight limit reduction and instituted a further investigation. It then ordered DOT to prepare plans and cost estimates for the construction of a new wooden deck, at an estimated project cost of $489,934,*fn3 of which $26,322 was attributable to the rehabilitation of that part of the bridge which spanned the railroad tracks. The PUC directed DOT initially to perform all rehabilitative work and it also ordered P&LE, upon completion, to reimburse DOT for 50% of the actual cost attributable to the rehabilitation of the railroad span. The PUC order likewise directed Fayette to reimburse DOT for 10% of the total cost of repairing the bridge.

In its appeal, P&LE argues that a 1969 order of the PUC which gave DOT responsibility for maintaining the bridge cannot now be altered to allocate a portion of the rehabilitative costs to another party without a showing of a change in conditions or circumstances.

Our review must be limited, of course, to determining whether or not constitutional rights have been violated, an error of law has been committed, or the Commission's findings and order are supported by substantial evidence. Fairview Water Co. v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 96, 422 A.2d 1209 (1980).

[ 66 Pa. Commw. Page 613]

Section 2702(b) of the Public Utility Code (Code), 66 Pa. C.S. § 2702(b), vests the Commission with the exclusive power to determine and prescribe, by regulation or order, the manner in which highway-rail crossings may be constructed, altered, relocated, suspended or abolished, and the manner and conditions in or under which such crossings shall be maintained, operated and protected to effectuate the prevention of accidents and the promotion of public safety. Section 2702(c) of the Code, 66 Pa. C.S. § 2702(c), empowers the Commission to order any public utility or municipal corporation concerned or the Commonwealth to perform this work, and under Section 2704(a), 66 Pa. C.S. § 2704(a), the PUC may allocate costs among these parties.

In addition, the PUC has the authority under Section 703(g), 66 Pa. C.S. § 703(g), "at any time, after notice and after opportunity to be heard . . . [to] rescind or amend any order made by it." The statute does not require that new evidence be presented before the PUC may rescind or amend a prior order. Tranter v. Public Utility Commission, 4 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 585, 288 A.2d 837 (1972).*fn4 P&LE mistakenly relies here on Scott Township v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 188 Pa. Superior Ct. 174, 146 A.2d 617 (1958), because the court there clearly did not mandate that evidence of changed conditions is necessary to justify a reallocation of maintenance responsibility. Further, P&LE's claim contradicts the unambiguous wording of Section 703(g) which requires only notice and an opportunity to be heard, which were both clearly provided here.

[ 66 Pa. Commw. Page 614]

In its appeal, Fayette contends that it should not bear a percentage of the cost of the entire bridge repair plan because only a single span traverses P&LE's track.*fn5 The PUC counters that it has exclusive jurisdiction over highway-rail crossings, supra note 2, as well as the approaches to those crossings, Springettsbury v. Public Utility Commission, 5 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 102, 289 A.2d 762 (1972), that in this case the portion of the bridge not actually traversing P&LE's tracks is a crossing approach and that it is therefore properly within the PUC's jurisdiction.

The factual issue of the extent of an approach must turn on the particular circumstances of each case and a mere linear analysis is not controlling, Springettsbury, because the portions of a structure carrying traffic over a river cannot be separated from the portion carrying traffic over railroad tracks. Conshohocken Borough v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 135 Pa. Superior Ct. 295, 5 A.2d 590 (1939). We conclude, therefore, that the PUC can order the entire structure's repair and allocate costs accordingly, and we also conclude that the order requiring Fayette's 10% contribution is reasonable.

Moreover, we are not persuaded by the petitioners' argument that the provisions of Section 2702(b) of the Code, 66 Pa. C.S. § 2702(b), require the PUC to allocate only those costs of maintenance directly related to an immediate danger to the safety and welfare of the public and that, because the painting of the bridge is not related to public safety, the cost thereof may not be allocated.*fn6

[ 66 Pa. Commw. Page 615]

The PUC's authority to allocate costs is provided in Section 2704(a) of the Code, 66 Pa. C.S. § 2704(a), which states that "the cost of construction, relocation, alteration, protection, or abolition of such crossing . . . shall be borne and paid . . . by the public utilities or municipal corporations concerned, or by the Commonwealth, in such proper proportions as the commission may, after due notice and hearing, determine. . . ." This section clearly does not require the PUC to establish that its apportionment of costs was related to the safety and welfare of the public.*fn7

We must conclude, therefore, that, absent a showing that the PUC has otherwise abused its discretion, its assignment of costs in this case was proper.

Order

And Now, this 26th day of May, 1982, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's order, I-77110287 adopted August 21, 1980 and entered September 24, 1980, is hereby affirmed.

Judge Mencer did not participate in the decision in this case.

Judge Palladino did not participate in the decision in this case.

Disposition

Affirmed.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.

I concur that the Public Utility Code does not require the Commission to consider evidence of changed

[ 66 Pa. Commw. Page 616]

    conditions before rescinding or amending a prior order. I also agree that it is authorized to order the entire structure's repair and to allocate costs accordingly. I am convinced, however, that the Commission erred by ordering the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad and Fayette County to contribute to the structure's painting costs.

The Public Utility Commission, a statutory creature, has only those powers clearly conferred upon it by the Legislature. See Allegheny County Port Authority v. PUC, 427 Pa. 562, 567, 237 A.2d 602, 605 (1967). There is no explicit statutory wording delineated, nor the strong and necessary implication therefrom, which would permit the PUC to allocate painting costs in this case. Code Section 2702(b)*fn1 provides, in part, that:

The Commission is hereby vested with exclusive power to . . . determine and prescribe by . . . order . . . the manner in which such crossings may be constructed, altered, relocated, suspended or abolished, and the manner and conditions in or under which such crossings shall be maintained, operated, and protected to effectuate the prevention of accidents and the promotion of the safety of the public. (Emphasis added.)

The Commission's power to regulate maintenance is clearly qualified and explicitly limited to effectuating the prevention of accidents and the promotion of public safety. Since Section 2704(a) of the Code*fn2 does not authorize the PUC to allocate maintenance costs, any regulation of maintenance responsibility is

[ 66 Pa. Commw. Page 617]

    subject to the limitations of Section 2702(b).*fn3 The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation concedes that the painting of the Layton Bridge is a maintenance item.*fn4 It follows then that the Commission cannot allocate this expenditure unless it determines that the cost is related to public safety and accident prevention.

It is my understanding that the payment of maintenance costs is clearly a condition which, under Section 2702(b), must be related to public safety promotion and accident prevention. Thus, I would reverse that part of the PUC's order which requires the Railroad and the County to contribute to the painting expenditure because the record is completely devoid of a PUC determination that the painting is necessary "to effectuate the prevention of accidents and the promotion of the safety of the public."*fn5 The painting costs should be borne exclusively by the Commonwealth as provided by Section 701 of the State Highway

[ 66 Pa. Commw. Page 618]

Law,*fn6 which requires the Commonwealth to maintain bridges on State highways, with certain exceptions not here applicable.


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