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January 22, 2018 11:00 AM, EST

Rail Customer Group Calls for Trump to Make STB Nominations

Union Pacific intermodal train TT File Photo

The Rail Customer Coalition, a group of manufacturing, agricultural and industrial shippers, sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to nominate candidates to fill vacant seats on the Surface Transportation Board.

The federal agency is supposed to have up to five members but only has two. Ann Begeman, named acting chairwoman three days into the president’s term, still retains the title with no guidance as to whether she’ll receive the job permanently.

“We need a fully staffed STB committed to moving forward on freight rail policy reforms that will streamline overly burdensome regulatory procedures and promote greater competition in the rail sector,” the group wrote Jan. 16.

There were also references to the ongoing dispute between the coalition and the Class I railroads over the issue of reciprocal switching or forced access.

A number of the customers in the coalition are known as “captive shippers,” referring to the fact that only one railroad serves their facilities. In some cases, the coalition argues, the lack of any competition between different railroads leads to unfair pricing that would not occur under normal circumstances. They have asked the Surface Transportation Board to allow railroads to share tracks, in certain situations, to offer a competitive landscape.

The Class I railroads counter that there are many logistics challenges to manage multiple companies operating trains on the same tracks. They also believe the Rail Customer Coalition overstates the problem and there are better solutions than an edict from the board.

“Competition is the foundation of the free enterprise system and helps American producers grow their businesses, generate new investments and create jobs. However, many freight rail customers have no effective competition for transportation service. The STB plays a critically important role in resolving rail rate and service issues where competition is lacking,” the coalition wrote.