WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), the lead sponsor of S. 808, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) Reauthorization Act of 2015, issued the following statement on the bill’s approval by the U.S. Senate last night by unanimous consent.
“Nearly 20 years ago, Congress established the Surface Transportation Board to oversee our nation’s freight railroad system. Passage of my bipartisan legislation will make the STB more accountable and effective in addressing rail rate and service disputes. The severe rail backlogs and service delays that began at the end of 2013 and extended through 2014 are a reminder of just how vital our nation’s rail system is for agricultural producers in South Dakota as well as many other sectors of the U.S. economy. This legislation was the result of working with a host of stakeholders across the country to find agreement on reforms that will benefit shippers and railroads alike. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues on the Commerce Committee including the ranking Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, for working to pass this legislation. I look forward to seeing these common sense reforms signed into law this Congress.”
Highlights of S. 808:
- Improves the STB’s current dispute resolution process by setting timelines for rate reviews and expanding voluntary arbitration procedures to address both rate and service disputes;
- Ensures the STB has the authority to proactively resolve problems before they escalate into larger disputes by providing the STB with the ability to initiate investigations on matters other than rate cases; and
- Improves the STB’s structure and decision making processes by expanding the board membership from three to five and, with proper disclosure, allowing board members to talk with one another.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved the bill by voice vote on March 25, 2015.
The STB is the federal regulatory body responsible for economic oversight of the nation's freight rail system. Run by a three-member bipartisan board, the agency has regulatory jurisdiction over railroad rates, mergers, line acquisitions, new rail-line construction, line abandonment, and other rail issues. The STB was created by Congress in 1996 as the successor to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Since that time, the STB has not been reauthorized or substantively reformed.
Thune serves on both the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee which has jurisdiction over our nation’s freight and passenger railroads, as well as the Senate Agriculture Committee. In addition, Thune previously served as South Dakota State Railroad Director under former Governor George S. Mickelson from 1991-1993. At Thune’s request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a report earlier this year that concluded the rail backlog in 2013 and 2014 lowered corn, wheat, and soybean prices in the Upper Midwest and caused shippers to pay record-high railcar premiums, 28 to 150 percent above the average previous levels for roughly 65 consecutive weeks.
Click here for a copy of S. 808.