Bipartisan bill seeks to strengthen S.T.B.

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — Senator John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation, and Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the ranking member on the committee, on Sept. 8 introduced the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2014, which aims to improve the S.T.B. by making it more efficient and accessible. The legislation was introduced following several months of serious freight rail service delays and backlogs.

“It is far past time that America had a competitive and efficient rail transportation network,” Mr. Rockefeller said. “Industries, businesses, consumers and rail passengers around the country rely on our freight rail system, and when the system or its economic regulatory framework breaks down, so does our economy. It is essential that we act to meet the growing transportation needs of our country.”

Mr. Thune added, “While the S.T.B. has made good faith efforts to address concerns of freight shippers and railroads, the current inefficiencies in the S.T.B.’s operations are symptomatic of the need for common-sense reform. The modest bill that Chairman Rockefeller and I are introducing addresses many of the key inefficiencies and time delays I hear about from shippers by reforming the case review process. With additional reforms, the S.T.B. can better assist shippers and railroads alike, helping to ensure rail service problems are addressed in a balanced and timely manner.”

The bill would strengthen the role of the S.T.B., increasing its investigative authority so it can launch its own investigations before a complaint is filed. By improving rate review timelines, the bill would make it easier for board members to communicate and improve alternative dispute resolution practices.

The bill also would further advance important S.T.B. proceedings, including reviewing revenue adequacy determinations, examining mandatory competitive switching, and determining whether contract bundling has had an adverse impact on the ability of shippers to bring rate cases.
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