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Senate subcommittee sets new hearing date for S. 919 debate


The Senate Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee recently rescheduled a hearing on The Railroad Competition Act of 2003 (S. 919) to Oct. 23 at 10 a.m., according to National Industrial Transportation League's (NITL) Web site. Originally scheduled for Sept. 18, the hearing was postponed because of Hurricane Isabel.

Introduced in April, the Senate bill would "clarify" national rail policy under the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) Termination Act and require Surface Transportation Board to "ensure effective competition" among railroads at origins and destinations; enforce reasonable rail rates "in the absence of effective competition"; and maintain consistent and efficient rail service for shippers, including timely distribution of rail cars.

The legislation — also under consideration in the House as H.R. 2924 — would require STB to provide "final offer" arbitration of certain rail-rate cases; remove paper barriers in future line sales or leases to regionals and short lines; eliminate an "anti-competitive conduct" test instituted in the mid-1980s for terminal area and switching agreements; place a cap on filing fees in rate cases involving "coal rate guidelines" to federal district court levels; mandate that railroads quote rates to customers between any two points where freight moves originate, terminate or transfer, when requested by a shipper; and declare that all or part of a state is an inadequate area of rail competition if petitioned by a state.

S. 919 also would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a tri-annual study on the extent of rail-to-rail competition, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a rail customer advocacy office.

Referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the bill is supported by NITL, American Chemistry Council (ACC), Alliance for Rail Competition (ARC), Consumers United for Rail Equity (CURE), as well as a coalition of 14 shipper associations that includes NITL, ACC, ARC and CURE. The hearing represents the first time the organizations have convinced the Senate to formally address their concerns, ACC officials say.

S. 919 is opposed by the Class Is and Association of American Railroads, which believe the bill is tantamount to re-regulation.

(For more information on S. 919, see the October issue of Progressive Railroading.)

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/7/2003