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Rail Roundup: STB sees flurry of activity ahead of holidays

Biden appointee Hedlund to take Surface Transportation Board seat

Containers and railcars parked in a yard. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Senate confirms STB nominee to take spot of outgoing board member Begeman

President Joe Biden appointed Karen Hedlund last week to serve as a member of the Surface Transportation Board after the Senate confirmed the nomination. 

She replaced Ann Begeman, whose time at STB ended on Friday with Hedlund’s appointment. Hedlund has yet to be sworn in. 

When Biden nominated her last April, Hedlund was described as a rail expert who has served as a legal adviser at the federal, state and local levels and has been involved in the development and financing of infrastructure projects related to rail, transit, highways, airports, water and energy facilities. She previously served as chief counsel and deputy administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration, where she helped implement and oversee the $10 billion intercity passenger rail program. She also served as chief counsel at the Federal Highway Administration. 

Begeman joined STB in May 2011 and served as acting chairman and chairman from January 2017 to January 2021. She served an additional year in 2021 after being on the board for two consecutive five-year terms. 

According to a release, Begeman’s highlights during her tenure have included “amending the board’s ex parte communication regulations to allow more open dialogue between stakeholders and the board, reforming the board’s rate review processes to ensure that all shippers — including those with smaller disputes — have access to rate review, addressing concerns related to railroad practices and policies regarding demurrage and accessorial charges, and overseeing administrative improvements to help modernize the agency.” 

STB Chairman Marty Oberman said, “I want to express my deep appreciation to Ann for her leadership and dedication to the board, both as chairman and as a member. Ann has shown dedication, leadership and innovation, and the beneficiary of all her persistent advocacy has always been the public. I will miss having Ann as a colleague and wish her continued success as she enters the next phase of her career.”

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Watco can proceed with acquisition of CN subsidiary lines in Wisconsin and Michigan

Short line operator Watco can proceed with its plans to acquire approximately 652 miles of rail line in Wisconsin and Michigan from Wisconsin Central, a subsidiary of Canadian railway CN (NYSE: CNI).

Watco had sought a series of exemptions in April to acquire the lines. After reviewing comments for and against the acquisition, STB determined that “after careful consideration of all comments received, the board finds that the issues raised do not demonstrate regulation is necessary to carry out the rail transportation policy and that it is appropriate to allow Watco to proceed with the exemption process.”

The decision, issued Monday, can be found here.

On Tuesday, CN confirmed the sale of noncore lines and assets belonging to Wisconsin Central. The railway said it would work with Watco in the coming weeks to implement a seamless transition for customers. These lines would also remain connected to CN’s network.

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STB provides updates on proposed acquisitions

STB’s Office of Environmental Analysis has extended the deadline for the public to comment on the environmental impact statement that’s part of the Canadian Pacific’s (NYSE: CP) application to acquire Kansas City Southern (NYSE: KSU).

Public comments will now be accepted through Jan. 3, which is beyond the original deadline of Dec. 17. 

More information on this deadline extension can be found here

Meanwhile, the board also said on Dec. 10 that it has concluded that CSX’s proposed acquisition of New England short line Pan Am Railways does not require an environmental and historic review. The decision reaffirms a prior conclusion. CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) will be filing traffic forecasts through 2027. 

STB also said the January hearing on CSX’s acquisition application will be held online. The public hearing will start at 9:30 a.m. ET on Jan. 13, and a second hearing could be held the next day depending on who signs up to speak at the hearing. STB will provide more information on the hearing after it reviews participation requests. 

STB decision paves way for new Utah railroad

The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition is one step closer to constructing and operating an 85-mile rail line in Utah.

The board granted the coalition the exemptions it had first sought in May 2020, in which the coalition was seeking authorization to construct and operate a new rail line in the Uinta Basin that would connect two terminal points in Utah — Myton Beach and Leland Beach — to the national rail network in Kyune, Utah, via Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP). STB’s decision supports the Whitmore Park Alternative as the railway’s route because it avoids or minimizes major environmental impacts, the board said Friday

STB’s approval is subject to final environmental mitigation measures recommended by the board’s Office of Environmental Analysis in its final environmental impact statement. 

The board’s decision is effective on Jan.14.

According to the project website, the railway could support shippers from the oil and gas, agricultural and mining industries seeking heavy freight rail access to domestic and export markets. More information on the environmental impact statement is available here.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.