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The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation yesterday passed the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2014 (S. 2777) by a unanimous voice vote.Introduced last week by Sens. John "Jay" Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), the legislation proposes to expand the number of Surface Transportation Board (STB) members from three to five; eliminate a holdover limitation and allow limited board meetings without an initial public meeting notice, but with later public disclosure; and require the STB to establish a database of complaints and issue quarterly reports on them.In addition, S. 2777 would change the case review process by requiring the board to establish timelines for stand-alone rate cases and report on rate-case methodology, and direct the STB to prevent railroads from using an approach commonly used by both railroads and shippers in contract negotiations to "bundle" offers.The bill would streamline the STB's ability to work together and address rate disputes and service complaints, said Thune in a press release.“I am pleased the committee was able to work together to pass these common-sense improvements to the STB," he said. "While there is more work to be done to address the concerns that agriculture producers and other shippers face, providing targeted improvements to the STB ensures that it functions as the regulatory body that Congress envisioned, while not stifling the railroads with additional regulations that can reduce infrastructure investment."S. 2777 is opposed by the Association of American Railroads and supported by numerous rail shipper groups, including the National Industrial Transportation League, American Chemistry Council (ACC) and Consumers United for Rail Equity.AAR officials are encouraged that several members of the Senate committee recognized the need for further discussion and review of the bill, but also remain concerned with the legislation's potential direction."We look forward to working with committee members and addressing outstanding concerns with this legislation in order to find common ground so the nation's railroads can continue to invest in maintaining and growing the capacity required to meet the shipping needs of the country," AAR officials said in a prepared statement.The ACC joined about 40 other organizations to send a joint letter to the committee expressing support for the bill, council officials said in a press release. "The committee [deserves] a great deal of credit for listening to stakeholders’ concerns and crafting sensible reforms that will sustain a healthy freight-rail system, provide customers with greater access to reliable service and promote competitive market-driven rates," said ACC President and Chief Executive Officer Cal Dooley. "Outdated regulations that block access to competitive rail service and limit the usefulness of the STB make American producers less competitive in today’s global market. By promoting a more competitive environment and modernizing the STB, the legislation will allow both railroads and shippers to thrive and meet the demands of their customers, while encouraging the growth of the U.S. economy."
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