Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., told the Surface Transportation Board he doesn't expect rail reform legislation in the near future, and urged regulators to take action on their own to make rail competition rules more shipper-friendly.
Rockefeller chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that passed a wide-ranging overhaul of rail regulations in December 2009, a measure that would have imposed tougher competition rules on railroads and given shippers more power to challenge rail practices. The bill, however, never reached a vote by the full Senate in the face of strong rail opposition, and it died with the last Congress.
He and ranking committee Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas, introduced the measure again this year, but he said “the legislative gridlock that has overcome Congress makes that unlikely in the near term.” He said the STB has the responsibility, regardless of legislative process or momentum, to make changes to correct any imbalances in the rail industry.
Rockefeller has been a stout defender of freight shippers from his state and elsewhere in their efforts to get more rail competition on rates and service. He told the three STB board members as they began a two-day hearing on industry competition, “Frankly, in the past the board has let us down” with policies that favored railroads over customers.
As he entered the STB hearing room to give his remarks, Rockefeller heard a railroad industry panel advise regulators to leave policies as they are now. But the senator instead urged the STB “to act boldly where you can” and make “incremental changes” in other areas.
While the 1980 rail deregulation law was designed to help restore a financially struggling rail system, Rockefeller said it has done that job but now leaves shippers with a vastly consolidated rail industry and few options for shipping goods.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” he told the board. “You must regulate for the future of the industry, not continue to solve the rail industry problems of the past that have already been remedied.”
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