U.S. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today introduced legislation, the STB Reauthorization Act of 2014 (S. 2777), along with Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-West Virginia) to increase efficiency of the Surface Transportation Board (STB) by changing internal processes and increasing timeliness of STB decisions to improve U.S. rail service.
“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.”
Thune and Rockefeller’s bill would allow board members to work together in a more streamlined approach, while also making it easier for railroads and shippers to discuss important issues with multiple board members at once. Their bill would 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 complaints.
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 grain orders 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. From letters, to meetings, to hearings, Thune continues to reiterate how South Dakota’s shippers are impacted by 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.