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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

STB reauthorization bill would change freight-rail policies


U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) yesterday introduced a bill that would reform and reauthorize the Surface Transportation Board (STB).

The proposed Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S. 808) would reform the STB and "streamline" its procedures, according to a press release issued by Thune's office. The STB has federal regulatory jurisdiction over certain economic issues for freight railroads, including the rates they charge shippers.

Although the STB has been "working diligently" to ensure rail service delays experienced by shippers and businesses in South Dakota and other states last year don't occur again, the service "crisis" highlighted inefficiencies in the agency, said Thune.

"Oversight efforts have identified causes of wasteful and unnecessary delays in adjudicating cases that harm rail shippers, freight operators, and ultimately consumers who pay higher costs," he said. "These reforms will help make the STB a more efficient, effective, and accountable agency for the benefit of shippers and railroads alike."

The legislation would expand STB membership from three to five members and allow them to discuss pending matters without issuing a public meeting notice, but with later public disclosure. In addition, the bill would allow the board to initiate some investigations — not just respond to complaints — and require it to create a database of complaints and prepare quarterly reports on them.

Moreover, the bill would change the case review process by requiring the STB to set timelines for stand-alone rate cases and report on a rate case methodology. The bill would codify an arbitration process for certain rate disputes and complaints.

Thune is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; Nelson is the committee's ranking member.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) yesterday endorsed the Thune-Nelson bill, saying it would "make the STB a more efficient, effective agency and promote a more equitable approach to resolve freight rail issues."

"The bill reflects many of the improvements that are supported by ACC and a large number of other groups representing a wide range of U.S. manufacturing, agricultural and energy interests. This bill will promote a more competitive environment for freight rail service and improve how the STB operates," according to the ACC's prepared statement.

The bill is a modified version of a measure that Thune introduced last year with now-retired U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.). That bill was opposed by the Association of American Railroads and supported by numerous rail shipper groups, including the ACC.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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