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The U.S. House yesterday unanimously approved the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S. 808), a bipartisan bill that proposes to reauthorize and reform the STB. The bill, which the Senate passed earlier this year, now goes to President Obama for his signature.The bill represents the first reauthorization of the STB and update of rail economic regulation in 20 years. The measure proposes to remove the STB from the U.S. Department of Transportation — establishing the board as an independent agency — and increase the number of STB commissioners from three to five.The bill makes "common sense improvements" to the agency's efficiency, processes and decision-making, said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) in a press release.Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger said the legislation "strikes the right balance of preserving a market-based structure for shippers and railroads, while also providing commonsense process improvements that will allow the STB to work more efficiently." In reauthorizing the board, Congress recognized the critical need for railroads to be able to earn revenue to invest in the nation's 140,000-mile, privately owned rail network, he said in a press release. Since 1980, the freight-rail industry has spent more than $600 billion on private infrastructure and equipment, according to the AAR."The industry invests revenue it earns, not government funding, to grow the nation's rail system and respond to the shipping needs of customers, large and small," said Hamberger. "Congress has reaffirmed balanced economic regulations that allow market-based competition to establish rate and service standards, with a regulatory safety net available to rail customers."The National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) hailed the bill's passage."We strongly believe that modest reforms to our outdated rail policies today will lead to less government intervention later. Passage of this important legislation will have a real, positive impact on chemical distributors and other industries that rely on freight rail to ship and receive goods," said NACD President Eric Byer in a press release.The American Chemistry Council (ACC) also lauded the House's approval of the bill. The passage of S. 808 follows a call from more than 100 trade groups for the House to take up legislation that increases access to more competitive and reliable freight-rail service, ACC officials said in a press release."It's clear there is a widespread consensus among Congress that the status quo is not working and that our country’s freight-rail policies need to be updated," they said. "Now that Congress has acted, we urge the STB to move forward on proposals to increase rail-to-rail competition and improve the board’s rate review process."
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