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Surface Transportation Board adopts rule to improve data collected from freight railroads

Final rule addresses data collection for intermodal shipments and certain non-intermodal carload shipments

The Surface Transportation Board revised what data it will collect from the waybill sample. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has adopted a final rule that modifies what data the board collects from the waybill samples of the U.S. freight railroads.

A waybill consists of shipping instructions or a bill-of-lading contract, and it includes transportation data such as originating and terminating freight stations, the railroads involved in a movement, interchanges, commodity, and freight revenue.

The Board, transportation law firms, consultants and others rely on waybill sample data to help with rate cases, exemption decisions and analyses produced in support of regulation.

The final rule improves how the Board collects waybill sample data because it provides a more robust dataset without adding an undue burden on the railroads, STB said. The final rule is also part of broader efforts to reform rate review and make procedures more accessible, efficient and transparent, the Board said. 

This rule increases the sampling rates of certain non-intermodal carload shipments and specifies sampling strata and rates for intermodal shipments. It will take effect on Jan. 1.

The enhanced dataset will “provide more comprehensive information to the Board and other users of Waybill Sample data in a variety of contexts, such as exemption decisions, stratification reports, traffic volume and rate studies, Board-initiated investigations, certain rate cases, and any other waybill data-related analysis the Board currently performs or might seek to perform in the future,” STB said. “In addition to the changes to the sampling rates and strata, the final rule eliminates the manual (paper) system for reporting waybill data due to its current lack of use and the absence of support among commenters for its continuation.”

Initial reaction by some shippers was positive. The American Chemistry Council said it “welcomes this new reporting requirement from the Board, which will provide more robust Waybill data and help eliminate some of the mystery of what railroads are charging rail customers to ship their goods. We encourage the STB to not stop here and move forward on other solutions that will help the Board spot and identify widespread rate and service issues.”

STB announced that it was seeking to modify how it collects waybill samples when it issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in November 2019. It said last year that the changes stemmed from recommendations made by the agency’s Rate Reform Task Force, which had held informal meetings throughout the U.S. in 2019 before releasing a report in April 2019 on its findings.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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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.