Rail problems not confined to Midwest | TSLN.com

Rail problems not confined to Midwest

The problems on the railroads — shortages of cars, delays and high prices — are much broader than what is happening in the Upper Plains, where there are fears this year's crop won't get moved, witnesses told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Wednesday.

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., presented to the committee the same message that they presented last week to the Surface Transportation Board: that the railroads need to invest more and quickly provide cars and service for this year's harvest.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the ranking member on the committee, made the same points as he introduced legislation that would give the STB more authority and force it to act.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the chairman of the committee, said he believes the STB "needs to change its fundamental perspective. We know that the railroads are financially strong. It is time for the STB to refocus its mission on providing regualtory balance to support the businesses and people who use the rail network."

Ed Hamberger, a lobbyist for the Association of American Railroads, defended companies and said that rail rates are "where they were in 1998 in inflation-adjusted terms."

Jerry Cope, the marketing manager for Dakota Mill and Grain in Rapid City, S.D., testified on behalf of the National Grain and Feed Association, and said that elevator operators do not want direct government intervention with the railroads.

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"But it is hoped that the stringent oversight of the agricultural rail service crisis will continue as the recovery in service hopefully continues and ultimately returns to more normal levels," Cope said.

"In the long term, continued vigilance and the spotlight on this crucial issue will facilitate needed communication between the railroads and the state, where one did not exist before."

Cope also praised the Rockefeller-Thune bill for "increasing STB's investigative authority so it can launch its own investigations before a complaint is filed; making it easier for board members to communicate; and improved alternative dispute resolution practices."

–The Hagstrom Report