Recent Press Releases

Senator Thune Touts New Rail Reform Bill

Will Strengthen Market Access of South Dakota Farmers and Ethanol Producers

December 16, 2009

Washington, D.C. —  U.S. Senator John Thune, the ranking member of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today announced his support of the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009.

“This comprehensive, bipartisan bill to reform and improve the Surface Transportation Board (STB) is perhaps the most far-reaching legislation to ever come before Congress seeking to address the needs of rail shippers, while also recognizing the importance of maintaining a strong national freight rail system,” said Thune.

“As a rural state in the middle of the country, rail service is critical to South Dakota’s farm economy. Much of South Dakota’s agricultural harvest is transported via rail to urban areas and ports on the East and West coast. This legislation will help ensure that South Dakota farmers receive a fair shake from rail carriers as they move their goods to market.”

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.

The measure is expected to be approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday, December 17, 2009.

“This bill is a major step in the right direction when it comes to addressing the needs of South Dakota farmers and small shippers in general, and I am happy to have played a role in the legislation’s development,” Thune added.

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.