The Department of Transportation has sent the Surface Transportation Board a strong endorsement of intermodal service at major railroads, appearing to weigh in against a possible expansion of STB regulatory power to that type of cargo.
The Jan. 31 filing by DOT General Counsel Robert Rivkin comes ahead of a Feb. 24 STB hearing, in which it will consider revoking broad exemptions now in place against regulating certain cargo classes including boxcar and intermodal traffic.
It follows a Jan. 27 meeting at the White House, in which some top rail industry executives took their regulatory concerns to President Obama's top economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee. It also follows a Jan. 24 letter from leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee warning the STB against tighter regulations.
And it comes shortly before Obama's Feb. 14 budget proposal that is expected to offer some new transportation plans.
Rivkin said while the data on other categories is unclear, intermodal "has clearly demonstrated the inherent efficiency of rail for the long-haul portion of a move of a container or trailer to or from an intermodal yard or port."
While Rivkin did not specifically ask STB regulators to keep intermodal exempt from regulation that could allow shippers to file rate and service complaints to the board, the letter's theme is one of doing no harm to a freight service that figures highly in DOT priorities.
He wrote that the DOT "believes that railroads will need to play an even larger role in the future than they have in the past" and have shown that intermodal offers "significant public benefits."
DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, Rivkin said, "has stated that one of his goals is to move more freight via rail and water carriage as a means to improve safety, preserve (highway) infrastructure and enhance air quality." The DOT backed that up, he added, with large grants for stack train corridors being developed by Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.