Railroad regulator wants to hear more pros and cons on collecting rail data

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The Surface Transportation Board (STB) wants to hear more from shippers and the Class I railroads on whether the railroads should supply more rail performance data to the board.

The board said on April 5 that it is opening a rulemaking proceeding in response to a petition filed by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) on December 6, 2018 to expand the existing requirements for what performance data the railroads supply to the board on a regular basis as mandated by the Ex Parte 724 proceeding.

The rulemaking proceeding is designed for the board to hear more information on the issues behind the petition, and is not a ruling on the merits of the petition itself, STB said.

It wants the ACC and the Association of American Railroads (AAR), which responded to ACC’s petition in a January 28 reply, to respond by May 6. The board will also take responses through May 20.

The board already receives certain rail performance metrics on a weekly, semi-annual and occasional basis. STB first sought public comments in April 2014 for Ex Parte 724 following rail service issues with Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) and BNSF (NYSE: BRK). On March 21, 2017, the rule requiring the Class I railroads to submit performance data became effective.  

But some shippers and the ACC are asking the board to amend the rules to create a distinct reporting category for chemicals and plastics. They also want to extend the weekly average terminal dwell time reporting requirement to include all Class I, terminal and switching carriers that operate in conjunction with the Chicago Transportation Coordination office. Another request is to have the same types of terminal reporting requirements be applied not only to the Chicago gateway but also to the New Orleans, East St. Louis and Memphis gateways along the Mississippi River.

These modifications will help shippers even further to identify and monitor service issues and spot trends pertaining to railcar cycle times. This additional data will also enable more  collaboration, because shippers can suggest service adjustments on routes, fleet sizes and sourcing locations, according to STB’s summary of ACC’s filing.

The AAR meanwhile said in its reply that the additional commodity-specific reporting shouldn’t be included because ACC hasn’t said what the public benefit is for it. The trade association also said the data collection for the additional gateways would be too burdensome and would require programming changes to their systems.

The board is asking ACC to explain how performance data helps both in business applications and to mitigate rail service problems. It also wants ACC “to quantify the value of additional reporting.”

The board is asking AAR to explain what those programming changes to the railroads’ systems would look like, as well as provide any data describing or quantify potential costs.

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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. Her transportation background extends to writing about automotive fuels and additives for Hart Energy Publishing and producing summaries on advanced transportation research for a federal government agency. In her spare time, she likes writing travel articles, taking photographs, and singing and dancing. She has a bachelor's degree in music and political science from Barnard College, a master's in journalism from Boston University, and a master's in musical theater from Boston Conservatory.

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