Following last week’s rail service hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, reiterated the committee’s plan to formally pass his legislation to reform the Surface Transportation Board (STB) on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Thune’s bill (S. 27777), which he introduced along with Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) would change the internal process and increase timeliness of STB decisions to improve rail service.
“I’m pleased the Commerce Committee is marking up our Surface Transportation Board reform bill this week,” said Thune. “The sooner these common sense improvements for the STB are implemented, the sooner that shippers and railroads will have new avenues to resolve service and rate issues in a timely manner.”
Thune and Rockefeller’s bill would allow board members to work together in a more streamlined approach. Their bill would also expand the STB board membership from three to five members, eliminate the holdover limitation, and allow for limited board meetings without initial 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 Rockefeller’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 also require a proceeding on the impact of contract bundling on shippers and would codify an arbitration process for certain rate disputes and carrier service complaints, which are capped at $25 million and $2 million respectively.
The STB reform bill would expand on the work Thune has done with the STB since the beginning of the year to hold railroads accountable for the backlog of rail car and locomotives in South Dakota. Thune has worked with the STB, as well as senior leadership of Canadian Pacific Railway and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, to address service issues that South Dakota shippers have raised. Through letters, meetings, hearings, and now through legislation, Thune continues to fight on behalf of South Dakota shippers and pursue solutions to address the shortage of rail cars and delivery delays.
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.