As the freight rail reform effort continues to pick up speed and the Surface Transportation Board (STB) moves forward with changes to its policies, Chairman Thune thought it might be a good time to check in on the progress so far.
Testifying at a field hearing this week on the implementation of the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015, Dan Mack of CHS Inc., on behalf of The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), thanked Senator Thune for leading the passage of the landmark legislation that will help modernize the STB. Mack represented farmers and ranchers with a broad range of experience in agriculture. They include thousands of producers in South Dakota who depend on reliable and affordable freight rail service to deliver their products across the country.
In his testimony, Mack highlighted the process improvements as well as a series of reforms that will help the Board work more efficiently. He also said the new law will modernize the process for resolving rate disputes – a process that has been called “unusable by most shippers” according to the National Research Council’s transportation Research Board.
The new law makes a series of commonsense changes that will help the Board operate more effectively and efficiently. The STB can initiate its own investigations on issues of national or regional significance. Furthermore, the voluntary arbitration process has been improved and now includes an increase in the maximum damage awards. And last but not least, the law requires the STB to provide monthly implementation updates on proceedings, rulemakings and other matters.
Mack praised Senator Thune, Ranking member Nelson and their staffs for their ongoing work to ensure the new law is successfully implemented. He also took the opportunity to praise the STB Commissioners for “working in good faith to get the job done in a transparent fashion.”
Additionally, Mack thanked the Board for the steps taken this year, including its proposal for allowing parties to use arbitration to resolve disputes, its ongoing efforts to improve existing rate case methodologies, and its most recent decision to allow competitive switching – a practice that has proven to work well in Canada.
Mack closed out his testimony with a pledge that TFI and the Rail Customer Coalition would help keep the momentum going and continue to work with the Committee, its leadership, and the STB to advance freight rail reform.
THE RAIL CUSTOMER COALITION
The coalition is a large collection of trade associations representing a broad cross section of manufacturing, agricultural, and energy industries with operations and employees throughout the United States, including: