STB sets new procedures for small/medium rail rate disputes
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board this week issued a final decision creating new procedures designed to ensure that small and medium-sized freight rail rate disputes can be resolved in a simplified, expedited and affordable manner.
The STB’s decision allows freight rail customers with small shipments to obtain an award of up to $1 million in relief within eight months of filing a complaint. The filing fee for this simplified “three benchmark' process is $150.
The board’s decision also creates a separate new rate dispute resolution process aimed at rate disputes involving mid-sized rail shipments. Rail customers can obtain an award of up to $5 million in relief within 17 months of filing a complaint and can choose which rate dispute resolution process they would like to use. In an effort to minimize litigation, the STB will require mediation in all rail rate disputes.
“These two new dispute resolution procedures open our doors to the more than 70 percent of rail traffic that until now has been effectively blocked from board review due to the complexity and resulting high costs of the board’s previous procedures,' STB Chairman Charles D. Nottingham said in a statement. 'This decision marks a major step forward in the board’s ongoing efforts to deliver meaningful reforms aimed at making the STB more accessible, transparent, and efficient.”
The board’s unanimous, bipartisan decision marks a milestone in a 12-year controversy regarding smaller rail rate case dispute resolution procedures. In 1995, Congress directed the STB to establish a simplified and expedited method for resolving smaller rail rate disputes. As a result, the board adopted procedures in 1996 that were criticized as overly vague and expensive for rail customers to use. The board held hearings aimed at improving the smaller rate dispute resolution process in 2003, 2004 and 2007, before arriving at today’s decision.
The decision, Simplified Standards For Rail Rate Cases, is available at www.stb.dot.gov/decisions/readingroom.nsf/WebDecisionID/38326?OpenDocument