The Surface Transportation Board, looking to end rail delays that have snarled agricultural shippers, ordered four major railroads on Friday to submit service recovery plans and temporarily report biweekly on their progress in making improvements.

Officials with BNSF Railway Co., CSX Transportation Inc., Norfolk Southern Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad Co. also will be required under the order to meet weekly with STB to review their service.

The service recovery plans must include a series of key performance indicators for the past 36 months and targets that each carrier expects to meet at the end of a six-month reporting period.

The board’s order follows an emergency hearing held last week where Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jewel Bronaugh called for the STB to lead the industry through a “course correction.

STB Chairman Martin Oberman said the two-day hearing showed “that the railroads’ longstanding practice of reducing operating ratios by cutting employment levels, mothballing locomotives, and eliminating other essential resources are the central reasons why farmers have been hours away from depopulating herds, manufacturing facilities have reduced operating hours, and shippers cannot get their products to market on time or receive essential raw materials for their companies.

“These failures are harming the nation’s economy and, in my view, are contributing to the inflationary forces affecting food and fuel in particular.”

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Oberman said the increased reporting ordered Friday “is an immediate step the board can take to enable needed monitoring of the improved efforts the railroads have been promising for months, and to determine if additional regulatory steps are necessary to promote reliable service.”

The service recovery plans also are supposed to detail what the railroads will do to lift speed restrictions and increase the power on its through trains, so trains have the capacity to travel at track speed. "To the extent a carrier has no such plan to lift velocity restrictions or increase power, the Board expects the carrier to explain why," the order says. 

For a three-month period, the four railroads also will be required to participate in a conference call every two weeks with the board’s Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs and Compliance to discuss their process addressing labor shortages and service delays.

The order also will requires all Class I carriers to file weekly reports for six months on specific indicators of service, performance, and employment. The required data includes the weekly average number of train starts per day. The companies already report the weekly average number of trains held per day.

Mike Seyfert, president and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, said the "additional transparency should help the board with its oversight and help shippers and receivers more efficiently plan operations and more accurately gauge when contingency plans are needed.”

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