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The Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S. 808), which was passed late last week by the U.S. Senate, would bring "commonsense improvements" to the board's review of rate cases, Association of American Railroads (AAR) officials said in a press release.Introduced by Commerce, Science and Transportaton Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), S. 808 would "strike the right balance of preserving a market-based structure for shippers and railroads through this bill," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger.“This bill … will allow the STB to work more efficiently and, at the same time, recognizes the need for freight railroads to earn revenues that allow for billions of dollars in private spending each year to build, maintain and grow the nationwide rail network, so taxpayers don’t have to,” he said.The bill would streamline the STB review process, as well as authorize the board to initiate investigations into some rail-service delays instead of just responding to service complaints. It also would require the STB to establish a complaint database and issue quarterly reports on complaints."The passage of my bipartisan legislation will make the STB more accountable and effective in addressing rail rate and service disputes. The severe rail backlogs and service delays that began at the end of 2013 and extended through 2014 are a reminder of just how vital our nation’s rail system is for agricultural producers in South Dakota as well as many other sectors of the U.S. economy," said Thune in a statement. "This legislation was the result of working with a host of stakeholders across the country to find agreement on reforms that will benefit shippers and railroads alike."Unlike STB legislation introduced over the past several years, S. 808 is supported by the AAR and rail shipper groups, including the Rail Customer Coalition, which represents about 50 trade associations covering the largest freight-rail users. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is among the shipper groups that welcomed the Senate's passage of the bill, which council leaders characterized as "sensible" legislation."Over the past few years, a growing number of policymakers have learned what so many manufacturers, farmers and energy producers know all too well: the [STB] and the nation's freight-rail polices are in desperate need of modernization," said ACC President and Chief Executive Officer Cal Dooley in a prepared statement. "In light of the recent service breakdowns impacting rail customers nationwide, this legislation emphasizes the existing responsibility of the railroad industry to dedicate revenue appropriately to meet current and future service needs."
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