March 20, 2015 11:45 AM, EDT

Senators Introduce Latest STB Reauthorization Bid

Bloomberg News
Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have introduced the latest legislative effort to make changes in the powers and structure of the Surface Transportation Board.

The measure is known as the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015, or Senate bill 808. It follows after multiple unsuccessful legislative initiatives in past years to accomplish the same goal. Most recently, Thune and now-retired Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) last year tried to advance STB reauthorization without success.

“After nearly 20 years of regulating freight railroads and adjudicating shipper disputes at the Surface Transportation Board, it’s time for Congress to address some inefficiencies in the agency,” said a statement from Thune, who heads the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

He identified what he termed “wasteful and unnecessary delays in adjudicating cases that harm rail shippers, freight operators and, ultimately, consumers who pay higher costs. “These reforms will help make the STB a more efficient, effective and accountable agency for the benefit of shippers and railroads alike.”

Nelson is the committee’s ranking member.

The measure would give the agency new power to initiate investigations into rail-service difficulties such as grain-shipping delays last year for farmers in South Dakota and surrounding states. In its current structure, STB can’t initiate such investigations.

One feature of the bill would be an accelerated rate-case review process, which Thune’s statement described as “burdensome” and “inefficient.”

The measure also expands voluntary arbitration procedures and increases the board’s size from three to five members.

At present, STB is operating with two members since former Chairman Daniel Elliott, who has twice been nominated by President Obama for another term, hasn’t yet been confirmed by the Senate.