Senate Committee Approves Historic Rail Reform Bill

December 18, 2009 Bookmark and Share

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved Thursday by a voice vote a bill to reauthorize the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and make a number of needed reforms that will improve competitive conditions and transparency in the rail industry and provide improved mechanisms for challenging rates.

The bill, the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009, S. 2889, was introduced Wednesday by Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) after months of work by key Members, Committee staff and coalition partners like NAWG.

The historic legislation – the first rail reform bill since the passage of the Staggers Act in 1980 – represents a balanced compromise to address the needs of both the shipping community and the railroads.

A key component of the bill is a rechartered, more proactive and accessible STB. If finalized, ag producers can expect a more responsive and accessible board and new shipper-friendly elements like an office of customer advocate and ombudsman program and an arbitration mechanism that is designed to be timely, cost effective and accessible to producers.

The bill was originally cosponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and John Thune (R-S.D.).

NAWG applauded the Committee’s action and Rockefeller’s leadership in a press release sent immediately after the mark-up.

“We’ve been working on rail competition legislation for many years, and this is an issue that is vital to our members,” said NAWG President Karl Scronce in the release. “We appreciate all the work done by Chairman Rockefeller and his staff to date and look forward to helping to push this one to the finish line.”

NAWG helped spearhead a letter supporting the bill’s introduction, sent Wednesday by 16 agriculture organizations to the cosponsors.

“Nearly 30 years have passed since passage of the Staggers Act, and our nation needs new rail transportation policy to reflect the reality of the marketplace in the 21st century for both railroads and the shipping communities,” the groups said. “We applaud your work and that of your staff members in developing a fair and reasonable compromise on a bipartisan basis that balances the needs of the agriculture shipping community with the needs of the railroads.”

The full letter and more information about NAWG’s work on rail policy are available at www.wheatworld.org/transportation.