Thune and Nelson introduce bipartisan freight rail reform bill
U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who respectively serve as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced S. 808, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) Reauthorization Act of 2015.
The STB is the federal regulatory body responsible for economic oversight of the nation’s freight rail system. Run by a three-member, bipartisan board, the agency has regulatory jurisdiction over railroad rate reasonableness, mergers, line acquisitions, new rail-line construction, line abandonment, and other rail issues. The STB was created by Congress in 1996 as the successor to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Since that time, the STB has not been reauthorized or substantively reformed.
“While the STB has been working diligently 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, last year’s crisis highlighted some of the inefficiencies that currently exist at the agency,” 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. These reforms will help make the STB a more efficient, effective, and accountable agency for the benefit of shippers and railroads alike.”
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 complaints and prepare quarterly reports on them.
Thune and Nelson’s bill would also change the case 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.
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 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 website.
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