WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a victory for rail shippers, the Surface Transportation Board unveiled a new proposal that would dramatically reduce filing fees for all complaint cases made to the Board. The proposed change has been long sought by rail shippers, who have argued that overly expensive filing fees have made the STB inaccessible to many shippers receiving poor treatment at the hands of the freight railroad monopoly.
“Setting reasonable filing fees is a critical step in ensuring that rail shippers can have their complaints heard,” said Glenn English, Chairman of Consumers United for Rail Equity, a coalition of railroad shippers. “The STB should be commended for this proposal which would bring the STB’s filing fees in line with filing fees charged by federal district courts.”
The STB proposal would reduce all filing fees on complaints to $350 or less. Today, a shipper wishing to file an “unreasonable practice” complaint against a railroad must pay a filing fee of $20,600. Hence, many businesses have been discouraged from pursuing relief at the STB. The Board is accepting comments on the proposed rule through April 19th.
The proposal fulfills a commitment that STB Chairman Dan Elliott made to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee at a hearing on national rail policy last September. In testimony before the committee, Elliot said he wanted to make the Board more accessible and said “filing fees should not deter parties from bringing disputes to the Board.”
The STB proposal is the latest in a series of initiatives of the STB intended to ensure that railroad shippers receive more equitable treatment from the freight railroad monopoly. Last month, the STB announced a process to explore the current state of competition in the railroad industry and possibly change current regulatory policies to ensure increased competition in the national freight rail system. A hearing on this issue is currently scheduled for June 22nd.
Two pieces of bipartisan legislation were recently introduced in the United States Senate that would ensure increased competition in the national freight rail system. The Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act, S. 158, introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) would take a number of steps to help rail-dependent shippers who are being hurt by the freight railroad monopoly. The Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act, S. 49, sponsored by Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), David Vitter (R-LA), Al Franken (D-MN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Jon Tester (D-MT), would remove antitrust exemptions that needlessly shield freight railroads from the same rules of fair competition that govern almost all other industries.