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Reintroduced bill addresses rail service improvements

Reliable Rail Service Act would define how STB addresses questions regarding common carrier obligation.

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot
Rail Road Track Brett Sayles Pexels
Brett Sayles |

Two U.S. senators have reintroduced a bill they say is intended to address service issues and shipping costs for rail customers.

On June 28, Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) reintroduced the Reliable Rail Service Act, which seeks to clarify the definition of railroads’ common carrier obligation and establish specific criteria for the Surface Transportation Board to consider when determining if a railroad has violated that obligation.

“Clarification of the common carrier obligation has been needed for decades and this bipartisan bill provides STB with clear oversight rules to help address our nation’s freight railroad supply chain challenges and improve rail service for agricultural shippers,” Mike Seyfert, National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) president and CEO said.

“NGFA members appreciate the leadership of Sens. Baldwin and Marshall in responding to rail service issues and cosponsoring this legislation, which will help regulators respond to service disruptions that cause hardship for livestock producers, grain exporters, and grain processing facilities."

"Common carrier obligation" defined

Rail shippers including farmers, grain handling facilities and energy producers continue to face poor service, significant service disruptions, and sky-high prices that are impacting communities and consumers all while the nation’s largest railroads’ profits are at record highs, noted Baldwin.

“Ensuring our agriculture, energy, and manufacturing businesses have reliable rail service will be crucial in leveling the playing field for businesses who depend on rail service and helping cut costs for working families," said Baldwin.

The Staggers Act of 1980 required rail carriers to serve the wider shipping public “on reasonable request,” a principle known as the common carrier obligation. More than 40 years later, however, the "common carrier obligation" remains poorly defined with no established criteria. 

The current ambiguity around this definition has contributed to insufficient rail services and exorbitant costs for American products to get to market, said Marshall.

“I frequently hear from Kansans that the service of Class 1 railroads is not living up to the expectations,” said Senator Marshall. “These service failures hurt our shippers who use the rail to deliver their products to key export facilities, that’s why the Staggers Act of 1980 must be modernized to clearly define railroad’s common carrier obligations. The multitude of organizations supporting this bill is a testament to how dire this situation truly is."

Similar legislation introduced by Baldwin in 2022 never passed committee.

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