Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. this week unveiled his plan for improving Surface Transportation Board efficiency by changing internal processes and increasing timeliness of STB decisions to improve U.S. rail service.
Thune's bill, the STB Reauthorization Act of 2014, is co-sponsored by Commerce Committee Chairman John "Jay" Rockefeller, D-W.V.
According to Thune, the STB has made "good faith efforts" in addressing concerns of freight shippers and railroads in light of the recent rail transportation delays, though reform is needed in the way the STB operates.
The bill "addresses many of the key inefficiencies and time delays I hear about from shippers by reforming the case review process," Thune said in a statement. "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."
According to a summary from Thune's office, the bill would allow the STB to continue with a more collaborative process that allows railroads and shippers to discuss issues with multiple STB members at once. Membership on the STB would also be expanded from three to five members, and the holdover limitation would be eliminated.
The bill also would allow limited board meetings without public notice, provided a later public disclosure was published. Additionally, the STB bill would 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.
The STB has been involved recently in hearing complaints from northern grain shippers on slow rail service. Already this month the board hosted a roundtable in Fargo, N.D., where representatives from several farm groups and the two rail companies in question – Canadian Pacific and BNSF – met to discuss progress in clearing rail backlogs and preparing for the influx of grain shipments over the harvest season.
According to the USDA, rail shipments remained behind at the close of August. BNSF had 2,231 grain cars past due an average of 8.9 days in its latest report to the STB dated Sept. 5, while CP reported 9,010 open requests for grain cars as of Aug. 29.