WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2014 – Senate Commerce Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, D-W. VA., and Ranking Member John Thune, R-S.D., introduced legislation Monday afternoon to increase the efficiency of the Surface Transportation Board.

“It is far past time that America had a competitive and efficient rail transportation network. Industries, businesses, consumers, and rail passengers around the country rely on our freight rail system, and when the system or its economic regulatory framework breaks down, so does our economy,” Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller and Thune introduced the STB Reauthorization Act of 2014, which aims to increase the board’s efficiency by changing internal processes and increasing timeliness of STB decisions.

“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 said in a release.

If enacted, the bill would expand the STB from three members to five and eliminate the holdover limitation. The board could also increase the speed of its decisions because of language in the bill that calls for limited board meetings without initial public meeting notice but with later public disclosure.

The bill would also allow the board to go above simply responding to complaints, but also initiate some investigations on its own. Aside from investigations, the STB would be required to establish a database of complaints and prepare quarterly reports on those complaints.

The 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 require a proceeding on the impact of contract bundling on shippers and would order an arbitration process for certain rate disputes and carrier complaints.

The introduction of this legislation comes two days before the Commerce Committee is set to hold a hearing on improving the service of America’s rail system. Last week, the STB held a field hearing in Fargo, N.D., to address the state’s rail backlog that is affecting grain shippers, many of whom claim to still be holding a great deal of 2013’s grain harvest with 2014’s harvest mere weeks away.


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