Senator Thune to introduce bill strengthening Surface Transportation Board

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The following is a press release from Senator Thune’s office about a bipartisan plan to introduce legislation that will strengthen the Surface Transportation Board following months of railroad service delays and backlogs that have hurt farmers, ethanol plants and other agribusinesses in South Dakota.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. –Senators John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Senator John Thune (R-SD), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will soon introduce the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2014. The bill aims to improve the Surface Transportation Board (STB) by making it more efficient and accessible. The legislation follows 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. 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,” said Rockefeller. “This is why Ranking Member Thune and I are introducing the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2014. It is essential that we act to meet the growing transportation needs of our country.”

“While the Surface Transportation Board has made good faith efforts to address concerns of freight shippers and railroads, the current inefficiencies in the STB’s operations are symptomatic of the need for common-sense reform,” said Thune. “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 STB can better assist shippers and railroads alike, helping to ensure rail service problems are addressed in a balanced and timely manner.”

The bill, which will be introduced next week, would:

  • Strengthen the role of the STB. The bill would increase the STB’s investigative authority, so it can launch its own investigations before a complaint is filed.
  • Increase the efficiency of the STB. By improving rate review timelines, the bill would make it easier for Board members to communicate, and improve alternative dispute resolution practices.
  • Advance important STB proceedings. These proceedings include 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.

Rockefeller and Thune will chair a hearing in the Commerce Committee titled, “Freight Rail Service: Improving the Performance of America’s Rail System,” on Wednesday, September 10, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. The hearing will examine rail service backlogs throughout the country, including congestion and locomotive and railcar shortages. Stakeholders will discuss the impacts of these issues on various industries and the economy.

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