Market Matters Blog

Bipartisan Group of Senators Ask STB to Continue Monitoring Rail Service

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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(DTN file photo)

A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman, stating concern over current rail logistic issues.

The May 23 letter from 21 senators outlines issues raised by customers and labor organizations at the April 26-27 STB hearings "Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service" and additional issues since that hearing.

U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., led a bipartisan group of colleagues in a letter urging STB to ensure reliable, consistent rail service for American industries and shippers.

"We are very concerned over the significant rail service disruptions occurring throughout the U.S. freight rail network. Reports from rail customers, including our manufacturers, farmers, ranchers and energy producers, indicate reliable rail service is not being provided in many situations," according to the letter. "Similarly, shippers have little recourse or alternative options to get their goods to market."

The senators reiterated comments from the hearing that in some instances, rail service problems have forced producers to curtail or temporarily stop production altogether. "Further accounts of lengthy delays and unpredictable service paint a troubling picture of the conditions our nation's commerce currently faces.

"Given the impact of these rail service disruptions, STB's oversight role is more critical now than ever. As railroads work to address existing challenges through service restoration plans, we urge the STB to examine all constructive options towards ensuring reliable, consistent rail service is available to shippers across the U.S. rail network," noted the letter.

The bipartisan letter is supported by the National Grain and Feed Association, National Mining Association, American Chemistry Council, and Growth Energy.

As a reminder, on May 5, STB published a decision requiring all Class I carriers to submit several specific reports on rail service, performance, and employment. STB is also requiring BNSF, CSX, NS and UP to submit service recovery plans, progress reports, historical data, and participate in bi-weekly conference calls with STB staff. This decision was effective immediately.…

Still in the works and related to the service issues, is the April 22 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend its emergency service rules to provide relief for shippers in situations that require immediate relief.

On May 23, the NGFA submitted a letter to the STB, praising them for amending its emergency service regulations on April 22, noting that the new measures would empower the board to act more efficiently and effectively during rail service emergencies.

"The NGFA urges the Board to issue final rules in this proceeding as quickly as possible, given that the current rail service crisis in the United States and the substantial harm it is causing to NGFA members, other rail shippers, and the country's economy as a whole, is showing no signs of abating anytime soon," NGFA stated.

NGFA praised the proposal's measure to shorten the process for petitions for emergency service orders but added a suggestion to the board to make it "mandatory for an identified alternative carrier" to reply to the petition.

"In today's industry there will likely be only one alternative carrier capable of meeting the needs of the shipper in an emergency," NGFA noted.

"When faced with a request for emergency service from an alternative carrier the board must weigh all the relevant factors to determine what is in the public interest and do so in a short period of time. Consequently, the STB should err on the side on collecting as much relevant information as possible, as quickly as possible, from the incumbent and the identified alternative carrier."

Comments on the April 22 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) amending emergency service rules to provide relief for shippers in situations that require immediate relief were due by May 23 and reply comments are due by June 6, 2022.

Here is a link to the May 23 NGFA letter to the STB:…

Link to April 22 STB proposal for Revised Emergency Service Rules:…

Link to the May 5 STB decision:…

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Mary Kennedy

Mary Kennedy
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