Sen. Thune freight rail reform bill passes committee
March 26, 2015
U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today praised the committee's bipartisan passage of his Surface Transportation Board (STB) reform bill, which he introduced along with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who serves at ranking member of the committee. Thune and Nelson's bill, the STB Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S.808), would streamline the board's ability to work together and address rate disputes and service complaints before they become larger issues.
"I am pleased the committee was able to work together to pass these common-sense improvements to the STB," said Thune. "Oversight efforts have identified causes of wasteful and unnecessary delays in adjudicating cases that harm rail shippers, freight operators, and ultimately consumers who pay higher costs. While there is more work to be done to ensure the major rail service issues experienced last year by shippers and businesses in South Dakota and other states across the U.S. don't happen again, providing targeted improvements to the STB ensures that it functions as the regulatory body that Congress envisioned, while not stifling the railroads with additional regulations that can reduce infrastructure investment."
Thune and Nelson's bill would allow board members to work together in a more streamlined approach. Their bill would expand the STB board membership from three to five members, and allow for board members to discuss pending matters without issuing a public meeting notice, but with later public disclosure. The bill would also allow the board to initiate some investigations, not just respond to complaints, and would require the STB to establish a database of pending complaints and prepare quarterly reports on them.
Thune and Nelson's bill would also change the rate review process by requiring the board to establish timelines for stand-alone rate cases and a report on rate case methodology. The bill would codify an arbitration process for certain rate disputes and carrier complaints up to $2 million for service complaints and $25 million for rate cases.
The STB reform bill expands on the work Thune has done over the past year and a half to prevent the rail service challenges experienced in the Upper Midwest and across the country in 2013 and 2014 from happening in the future. Thune has worked with the STB, as well as senior leadership of Canadian Pacific Railway and BNSF Railroad, to address service issues that South Dakota shippers have raised.
Thune serves on both the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee which has jurisdiction over our nation's freight and passenger railroads, as well as the Senate Agriculture Committee. In addition, Thune previously served as State Railroad Director under former Governor George S. Mickelson from 1991-1993. For a complete outline of Thune's work to reduce the rail service backlog, visit his rail service website.
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In addition, the committee passed Thune's bill to reauthorize through Fiscal Year 2023 the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which has benefitted millions of anglers and fishermen since 1950. The program collects user fees on fishing tackle and equipment, motorboat fuel, imported boats and fishing equipment, and small engines, raising roughly $600 million per year. The money in the fund is then allocated to federal and state programs for boating safety and infrastructure, fishery management, habitat conservation, and related programs and activities.