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The NGFA Supports Surface Transportation Board's Proposal

Requiring railroads to make information available online

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The NGFA supported the Surface Transportation Board's (STB) proposal to require Class I railroads to post and make available common carrier tariff rates and service terms for agricultural products and fertilizer on their respective websites in a statement submitted to the agency on Feb. 21.

The STB proposed the rule to update its 20-year-old regulations to reflect the fact that Class I railroads have begun making common carrier tariff rates and service terms available on their websites, rather than in paper form. Such information is required to be made available under the Interstate Commerce Termination Act of 1995. Agricultural transportation represents the largest users of common-carrier (non-contract) rail service, with grain representing approximately one-third of all common-carrier movements.

The NGFA strongly supported the STB's proposal that such information needs to be made available to all persons, not just the customers or prospective customers of the given railroad, and urged the agency to refine its proposal to prohibit current impediments to accessing such information that exist on some carriers' websites. The NGFA's statement noted that some carriers currently erect barriers to accessing tariff rates and service terms through cumbersome and time-consuming registration requirements or password-protection requirements that preclude the public from accessing such information.

"The STB should make it abundantly clear in its final regulations that such registration features must provide for immediate and unrestricted access to any person - not just current or potential customers - of all tariff rates, pricing information and all applicable service terms and conditions for agricultural commodities and fertilizer," as required under federal law.

In addition, the NGFA statement urged the STB to require that Class II and III railroads, if they voluntarily decide to provide tariff and service terms on their websites, do so under the same rules for transparency, accessibility and format usability as required of Class I railroads.

The NGFA statement also commended the STB for issuing a clarifying policy statement contained in the same proposed rulemaking document that would allow farmers, agricultural producers and state attorneys general (on behalf of farmers or shippers) to be potentially eligible to be granted standing to bring a rate challenge - and to aggregate their rate claims - at the STB, even though they have not been directly harmed and/or are not direct payers of rail freight. The NGFA concurred with the STB that current law expressly allows grain producers and other indirectly harmed parties to challenge unreasonable freight rates by filing complaints before the agency.

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