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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Sens. Thune, Durbin note rail regulation developments


The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has added reporting requirements to grain-order reports that BNSF Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific must submit to the board each week, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced on Monday.

The senator had sent a letter to the STB on July 24 requesting that the board require both BNSF and CP to provide new information in the weekly reports. Similar to the metrics requested in the letter, the STB now requires BNSF to provide an expanded plan regarding its efforts to address the anticipated record grain harvest and cite grain shuttle-train performance by region, Thune said in a press release.

The STB also now requires CP to provide a sufficient number of locomotives to the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern Railroad (RCP&E), and to report the number of locomotives moving inbound and outbound from RCP&E's system onto the Class I's system, he said. In addition, CP must outline a plan to ensure RCP&E maintains locomotive resources to support its outbound train movements and work through backlogged grain shipments, and provide an updated plan and timeline to reduce its backlog of unfilled grain car orders, the senator said.

"I am pleased the STB swiftly addressed my request to require new reporting metrics from CP and BNSF, ensuring shippers and producers have the most up-to-date information about the efforts being made to address the backlog of rail cars," said Thune. "With additional transparency and oversight, I know these additional requirements will assist shippers as the anticipated record harvest begins."

Since the beginning of the year, Thune has worked with STB officials and senior leaders at BNSF and CP to address service issues raised by South Dakota shippers. Thune is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over the STB and freight railroads.

The STB has scheduled a Sept. 4 public hearing in Fargo, N.D., to address the grain-car backlog and the challenges facing shippers and agriculture producers. The hearing will be similar to one the STB conducted on April 10, during which Thune, grain shippers and others provided testimony about the rail service challenges shippers face, the senator said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) convened a meeting on Wednesday with mayors from cities in the Chicago area, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo and Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott to address concerns about crude-by-rail safety.

"With one-quarter of all U.S. freight traffic rolling through the Chicago area each day and roughly 40 trains carrying crude oil passing through Chicago each week, this community is uniquely impacted by rail safety issues," said Durbin in a press release. "We need to better secure oil traveling in outdated and unsafe tank cars, increase the safety of the tracks over which these trains run, and ensure that local communities have the resources to respond to accidents if they occur."

On Aug. 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) released a draft rule on crude-by-rail safety and is accepting public comments on the rulemaking until Sept. 30. Durbin hopes the USDOT crafts regulations that are sensitive to the Chicago area's safety needs, he said.

In Illinois, tank-car weakness was exposed in two high-profile derailments, including a CN train carrying ethanol that exploded after derailing in Cherry Valley in 2009 and an ethanol train that derailed and exploded in Tiskilwa in 2011, the senator said. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the tank cars added to the severity of both explosions, he said.

Durbin helped secure several funding lines and policy changes in the fiscal-year 2015 Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill that will help address oil train safety. The bill includes funding for an increase in track inspections and more training for first responders, and calls on the USDOT to finalize its proposed rules quickly, he said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/22/2014