Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  The Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009, co-sponsored by U.S. Senator John Thune, the ranking member of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, was passed out of the Commerce Committee today by unanimous consent.

“This is a crucial first step forward for much overdue rail reform legislation,” said Thune. “South Dakota’s agriculture producers depend on rail service to transport their goods to market. This legislation will help ensure that rail shippers are treated fairly.”

Yesterday, 16 national agriculture organizations sent the attached letter voicing their support for the legislation. The letter noted that, “We believe this legislation will bring needed reform to the STB that will improve competitive conditions and transparency in the rail industry and bring about meaningful relief for rail shippers. The bill will provide improved mechanisms for challenging rail rates, services and practices that are much more accessible to agricultural companies and producers”. The letter was signed by the American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Grain and Feed Association, and several other agricultural organizations.

Thune, a one-time Railroad Director of South Dakota, said the new legislation would offer assistance to small shippers in a number of important ways. It would create a new Customer Advocate at the STB, who would work with shippers who have questions or complaints and help them get their concerns addressed. The bill would streamline the rate complaint process and lower the fee for filing a complaint to $350. Even more important for South Dakota shippers, the bill would create a new arbitration process for small rate complaints. This process should be of great assistance to grain elevators and farmer-owned ethanol plants in South Dakota who today do not have the time or expertise to challenge a railroad rate under the existing rate case procedures.

The legislation would also:
  • Modify federal guidelines, which serve as a roadmap for STB oversight, to require a better policy balance between the interests of the railroads and their shippers;
  • Require the railroads to publish service standards in their tariffs;
  • Reinstate the STB’s ability to initiate investigations on its own initiative, and undertake a study of rail practices, including switching, demurrage, and other accessorial charges, including fuel surcharges;
  • Establish a process for the review of new and existing “paper barriers” that limit the ability of some short lines to interchange freight with a railroad other than the railroad which sold or leased the line; and
  • Expand and improve the quality and expertise of the STB.
In August, Senator Thune chaired a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Sioux Falls, SD, entitled, “Addressing Transportation Needs in Rural America.” While this hearing focused on highway infrastructure, rail, and trucking needs in South Dakota, a number of the ideas shared from the witnesses, including the SD Corn Growers, have been addressed in the legislation.

Last year, South Dakota produced 172 million bushels of wheat, 585 million bushels of corn, 138 million bushels of soybeans, and one billion gallons of ethanol and a large portion of this production was moved using South Dakota’s nearly 2,000 miles of rail line. Over 80 percent of ethanol produced in South Dakota, for example, is transported via rail. Without accessible rail transportation, the cost of production would increase significantly and South Dakota grain and ethanol producers would be less competitive.

The Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009 (S. 2889) was a collaborative bipartisan effort by Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Senator Thune.