House bill

House bill would extend STB’s authority over rail service

A House bill to reauthorize the Surface Transportation Board would allow private car owners to charge railroad fees for delaying their cars. Here, a utility-owned coal-powered gondola descends Crawford Hill on the BNSF railroad in Nebraska. (Bill Stephens)

WASHINGTON — The Surface Transportation Board would get more teeth under a shipper-friendly bill that would reauthorize the agency that regulates freight railroads.

Rail Freight Fair Market Actpresented on Tuesday, would give regulators more power to deal with service emergencies, require railways to include service standards in contracts with customers and give shippers the ability to charge railways that delay private freight cars.

The measure also directs the STB to regularly reassess goods exempt from the regulations, sets minimum service standards for shipments subject to tariffs, and provides clearer guidance to the STB regarding disputes over the obligations of railroad common carriers. .

Representative Donald M. Payne Jr., a New Jersey Democrat who is one of the chairs of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, accused freight railroads of put profit before service.

“My bill gives the Surface Transportation Board the power to prohibit rail fare increases during a rail emergency and to resolve rail emergencies when they arise,” Payne said. “This bill will improve the speed and reliability of rail service and ensure that freight rail travel continues to improve in the future without unnecessary regulations.”

The bill’s sponsors say giving the STB a bigger toolbox would spur Class I railroads to improve service.

But the Association of American Railroads said the measure, if passed, would threaten the viability of freight railroads and exacerbate ongoing service problems.

“This reckless proposal rolls back more than 40 years and restores an imbalanced regulatory framework that replaces free market principles with unwarranted government mandates,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “Since the industry was partially deregulated in 1980, freight railways have invested nearly $760 billion to improve the safety, competitiveness and sustainability of their operations. Their ability to maintain this level of spend is essential to meet the freight demands of today and tomorrow. Safe, reliable, cost-effective and fuel-efficient rail freight transport is essential to our future. Excessive re-regulation will set us back and do nothing to solve today’s service challenges and supply chain issues.

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association agreed and said it could not support the bill despite the inclusion of funding for a study that would examine whether Class I railroads have taken steps to discourage interchange with shortline and regional railways. Overall, the bill would “insert aggressive government regulation into the complex and interconnected freight rail network, create an array of unintended consequences and, ultimately, do more harm than good,” the lender said. ‘ASLRRA in a statement.

Rail shipper organizations, including the National Industrial Transportation League, welcomed the STB’s reauthorization bill.

“This bill is consistent with NITL’s long-standing policy goals and objectives by providing the Surface Transportation Board with enhanced tools to better hold railroads accountable for providing reasonable service at reasonable rates,” the executive director said. Nancy O’Liddy. “Because of supply chain challenges complicated by railroad operating decisions, this bill also addresses the persistent debilitating service issues faced by NITL members who move billions of dollars in freight over the rails of our country.”

The Freight Rail Customer Alliance and the Private Railcar Food and Beverage Association issued similar statements supporting the bill.

Herman Haksteen, president of the food and beverage group, says the bill will clarify the obligations of railroad common carriers, provide the STB with better ways to determine whether a railroad is meeting those obligations, and establish service standards. that can be applied.

The American Chemistry Council, the trade group representing chemical producers, says the legislation comes at a critical time because of rail service issues. A recent survey of ACC members found that freight rail service has deteriorated, with nearly 40% of companies reporting that rail problems are worse this year compared to the third quarter of last year. The survey also revealed that 75% of companies have been forced to shift freight from rail to truck due to rate and service issues.

Railway workers were encouraged that the bill seeks to clarify the obligations of railway common carriers.

“In their race to the bottom, the Class I freight railroads have sought short-term profits to benefit their Wall Street investors while cutting the industry’s total workforce by 29% in over the past six years, resulting in widespread deterioration of rail service for customers, untenable working conditions for employees, and an unsustainable freight rail system for the American people. As customers, workers and consumers suffer the consequences, the railroads are making record profits,” said Greg Regan, chairman of the AFL-CIO’s transportation trades department.

Independent analyst Anthony B. Hatch says he expects the committee to move the bill forward in the House, where it is unlikely to pass.

— Updated at 6 p.m. CDT to include ASLRRA’s reaction; updated 9:30 a.m. CDT August 3 with commentary from TTD Chair Greg Regan; updated 3:15 p.m. CDT with comment from the American Chemistry Council.