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Surface Transportation Board seeks input on first and last mile

Comments due by Oct. 18

The Surface Transportation Board is asking for comments on first-mile/last-mile data. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Surface Transportation Board is seeking comments from shippers, carriers and others on first-mile/last-mile (FMLM) service, which occurs when railcars are moved between a local railroad serving yard and a shipper or receiver facility.

The federal agency wants to know whether it should examine further FMLM issues beyond the information that the railroads already give to shippers. STB “is particularly interested in knowing whether metrics to measure FMLM service that are not now being reported to the Board might have utility for the supply chain, and the potential burdens associated with any such reporting.”

STB’s decision to solicit public comments, issued Thursday, comes as a number of shippers have asked for FMLM data that they argue would provide more transparency into the supply chain, especially in light of crew shortages and other issues that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and by worldwide supply chain complications, STB said.

“As a result, the Board seeks comment on possible FMLM service issues, the design of potential metrics to measure such service, and the burdens associated with any suggestions raised by commenters,” STB said.

Comments to Docket No. Ex Parte 767 are due by Oct. 18, with replies due by Nov. 16.

In filings to STB last October, shippers said the FMLM data might help rail stakeholders better understand the nuances of rail service under precision scheduled railroading, an operational model that seeks to streamline operations. These nuances include data gathered when railcars shift from unit trains to manifest service, which could be valuable for smaller and nonunit train shippers.

The shippers said that data collected on aggregate performance could also help the board understand how rail carriers deploy resources within the contexts of rail volumes, the economy and operating conditions.

But the railroads said a year ago in filings to the board that the railroads have been working with shippers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to modify schedules and adjust service levels. Rail data is also limited in how it can help understand causality or the difference in rail service between commodities and other railroads, the railroads said.

The Class I railroads already report certain data points to the STB in accordance with the proceeding Ex Parte 724. This data includes average train speeds and dwell times.

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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.