• ITVI.USA
    14,237.430
    109.200
    0.8%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.810
    -0.160
    -0.7%
  • OTVI.USA
    14,212.180
    102.900
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  • TLT.USA
    2.800
    -0.010
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  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
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  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
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  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
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  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
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  • WAIT.USA
    127.000
    0.000
    0%
  • ITVI.USA
    14,237.430
    109.200
    0.8%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.810
    -0.160
    -0.7%
  • OTVI.USA
    14,212.180
    102.900
    0.7%
  • TLT.USA
    2.800
    -0.010
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  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.290
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  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
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  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.320
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  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
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  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
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  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
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  • WAIT.USA
    127.000
    0.000
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American Shipper

Shippers look to 2015 for STB reauthorization bill

The Senate’s reauthorization and update of the Surface Transporation Board is on the docket for the next Congress.

   With the newly Republican Senate ready to take up its agenda for the next two years, shippers are anxious to see how debate on the “Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2014” develops.
   Introduced by senators John Thune, R-S.D., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the bill, was passed out of committee in September. During that hearing, it became clear that senators had the urge for a deep discussion on rail issues addressed in the bill, which meant that passing the legislation in 2014 wasn’t going to happen.
   The bill has bipartisan support, but the landscape of the senate will change a bit with the next Congress, as Democrats will no longer be in the majority. Within the committee, Sen. Rockefeller, the current chairman, will retire, and his seat in the Senate will be filled by Republican Shelley Moore Capito. Three other Democratic members of the committee — Mark Pryon, Mark Begich and John Walsh — found their Senate seats taken over by Republicans.
   The bill passed out of the committee by a unanimous vote, but the number of senators urging caution might have given outsiders pause. Bruce Carlton, president and chief executive officer of the National Industrial Transportation League, said this note of caution wasn’t one of anxiety and doesn’t even mean the bill will likely face an unfriendly Senate.
   “I would love it to go through like Greased Lightning, but it won’t,” he said. “They were taking a very cautious approach to what I thought was a very cautious bill. Nothing happens quickly — this is Washington. There are concerns to be aired out from all parties.”
   Carlton said the bill lays the foundation for a reworking of the agency, but the content of the bill isn’t groundbreaking or far-reaching. In fact, Carlton said the bill is part of a Congressionally mandated check up that should be given to all government agencies.  
   “I think that’s what I saw in [the bill]. It’s a broad prescriptive,” he said. “It doesn’t answer any of the questions. It doesn’t conclude the deliberative process. It directs the board to do some things that should shine a light on issues that have been front and center in the freight rail industry.
   The American Chemistry Council stands completely behind the bill, but the ACC’s Jeffrey Sloan cautions that the bill doesn’t represent a whole-cloth reimagining of the board. Instead, he said, this is simply an update of the board and how it functions.
  “As the freight rate industry has consolidated in the last decade, you’ve seen a dramatic increase in rail rates,” he said. “That’s driven more and more attention to this. The issues have been there for a long time, but they’re getting more and more urgent in the minds of a broad group of shippers.”
    Sloan and the ACC have been watching the bill’s progress closely. Like Carlton, Sloan didn’t see any warning signs during the committee meeting when senators expressed that restraint would be needed during debate over the bill.
   “I think it shows that there is more education that needs to be done as far as why these reforms are so important to so many sectors in the economy,” he said. “I think it reflects that a lot of members of the committee hadn’t been involved years ago when these issues were last really discussed at the committee.”
   Regardless of the work ahead, and the final state of the bill, shipper groups agree that the legislation is a positive step forward and can represent real change at the STB.
   “As a blueprint for a way forward to have a legislative dialogue on freight rail issues,” Carlton said of the bill, “I thought it was a very, very sound beginning.”