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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

House Judiciary Committee OKs railroad 'antitrust enforcement' bill


Last week, a bill seeking to remove railroads' antitrust exemptions passed the House Judiciary Committee. On April 30, the committee approved the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2007 (H.R. 1650), which aims to eliminate "antiquated railroad antitrust exemptions enjoyed, unfairly, by freight railroads," according to a press release issued by U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the bill's author.

If passed by the House, H.R. 1650 would permit the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to review railroad mergers under antitrust law, and eliminate antitrust exemptions for mergers, acquisitions, collective rate-making and coordination among railroads. The bill — which has "wide support from utilities, agricultural groups, chemical companies, the cement and steel industries, paper and forestry companies, and consumer groups," said Baldwin — also would allow state attorneys general and private parties to sue for treble damages and to halt "anti-competitive" conduct.

"This legislation is long overdue and absolutely necessary to begin to end the railroad monopolies that are driving consumer prices up and service down," said Baldwin.  "It's time for Congress to apply our antitrust laws more equitably."

Officials at rail shipper advocacy organization CURE believe the committee's approval is a "tremendous step forward" for shippers' interests.

The bill "will ensure more rail customers have access to competition and reduce the cost of electricity, food and other consumer goods for American consumers," said CURE Executive Director and Counsel Bob Szabo.

For railroads, the bill would create a "dual regulatory system" and "retroactively undo" agreements, decisions and rulings currently in effect, said Association of American Railroads President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger in a prepared statement.

"This legislation will severely hamper the ability of the nation's railroad industry to expand, and to deliver the goods and products our economy depends on," he said. "It will force more freight off the railroad and onto the highway, dramatically increasing pollution and traffic congestion."
Transportation Communications International Union (TCU) officials also expressed concerns about the bill. The union, which represents 46,000 rail workers, concurred with the AAR's contention that H.R. 1650 calls for "dual and possibly conflicting oversight" of railroads, which could cause "unwanted problems" for TCU-represented employees, union officials said in a statement.

S. 772, a companion bill to H.R. 1650, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last year still awaits full Senate consideration.