WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee will hold a hearing on economics, service and capacity issues in the freight railroad industry at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 21, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 562, according to U.S. Senator Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, subcommittee chairman, who is convening the hearing at the request of U.S. Senator Conrad Burns, R-Montana.
Witnesses will include railroad and shipping representatives, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the General Accountability Office (GAO), Senator Lott said. He said that GAO will present preliminary findings from its study on recent rate changes in the freight rail industry, whether those changes suggest the need for alternatives to the current framework for regulating freight railroad rates and how projected future demand for freight rail compares with projected future capacity.
Senators Lott and Burns, joined by six other Subcommittee Senators, last year asked GAO to investigate and report on the performance of the current regulatory structure in striking the appropriate balance between the interests of railroads, shippers and the need for an adequate national transportation system to support the nation’s economy. Senator Lott stressed his hope that the GAO report will help the Subcommittee promote the balance between ensuring fair and high quality service to shippers and a safe and productive rail system as the panel considers the reauthorization of the STB.
Senator Burns is a leading advocate on rail issues and bringing competition to areas dominated by a single railroad. In April 2005, Senator Burns introduced S. 919, the Railroad Competition Act, not the subject of the June 21 hearing, but a comprehensive proposal that would restrict the major railroads from precluding competition from short-line railroads and reforming the STB to provide a workable forum for dispute resolution. Senator Burns has complained that Montana businesses and consumers battle monopoly power on a regular basis, because the state is served by only one railroad, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe.
“Right now our small businesses and energy customers are being taken advantage of by the railroads, simply because they can,” said Senator Burns. “I have introduced a bill that will limit these monopolistic abuses which restrict competition and improve dispute resolution. I was not sent here to oversee a monopoly.”
A full witness list for the June 21 hearing will be announced at a later date.