The Senate helped lead the way again on Surface Transportation Board (STB) reform last week, but it might have been easy to miss. As was widely reported, the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee passed a $57 billion measure to fund a number of transportation priorities for fiscal year 2017.

This was good news on many transportation fronts, but it was especially good for the STB. That’s because the bill includes a sizable increase to the Board’s budget by providing an additional $4.6 million.

This increase is most likely the largest the STB has seen in a long time and comes at a pivotal point in the Board’s history. The new funding will help ensure the Board has the necessary resources to fully implement the reforms President Obama recently signed into law that makes significant improvements to how the STB operates. Among other things, the new law requires the STB to—

  • Expand voluntary arbitration procedures to make rate cases quicker and less costly
  • Initiate investigations on matters other than rate cases when needed
  • Set rate review timelines for the stand-alone cost test to ensure the STB efficiently decides on relief
  • Establish a database of complaints and prepare quarterly reports on them
  • Expand membership from three to five members and allow board members to talk with one another without a prior public hearing notice

The Rail Customer Coalition wholeheartedly welcomes the budget increase. In fact, the Coalition recently sent a letter to Congressional appropriators urging them to provide this additional funding so the STB could fulfill the intent of Congress.

We applaud the members of the Subcommittee for listening to our request and acting so quickly. This new funding will be critical to bringing the STB into the 21st century, and we call on the rest of Congress to make sure this increase makes it to the President’s desk this year.