Railroad officials are engaged in “good” talks in Congress on legislation that would reauthorize the Surface Transportation Board and revamp key rail regulations, said Michael Ward, the chairman, president and CEO of CSX Transportation.
Ward also told stock analysts, in an April 14 conference call to discuss CSX’s strong first-quarter earnings, that “at this point I don’t see any dramatic change in the pace of movement” on the rail legislation, now that passage of a health care law has removed one of the big issues that was filling up the congressional calendar.
He said CSX expects the rail regulatory bill, which emerged from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in December, to have new antitrust language attached before it goes to the full Senate for a vote. Key senators have wanted to strip railroads of a limited antitrust exemption they enjoy, which routes most economic issues through the STB rather than submitting them to challenge in district courts.
“We think that may eventually be folded into the Senate Commerce legislation, but I think that’s been an ongoing dialogue and it really has not changed dramatically since our last (quarterly) call,” Ward said.
Earlier this year, Ward and other leading rail executives criticized the bill for threatening rail profits and carriers’ ability to invest in their networks. Some said they could not support the Commerce bill without significant changes. Shippers have largely backed the measure, which they say makes progress toward more competitive rates and access for many freight customers, and broadens STB oversight of railroad behavior.
One analyst on the call said his own sources have indicated “the dust is starting to stir” on moving that legislation again, with health care out of the way, and asked for Ward’s assessment of where it stands.
“We’re having good, active dialogues with the Senate Commerce Committee,” said Ward. “We’re making them aware of some of the concerns we have, suggesting some of the modifications we think that would make this more balanced and allow us to continue to make the monies to make the investments that are required.”
Even without health care crowding the calendar, he said lawmakers are focused on new financial reform legislation, and major energy or climate legislation is soon expected.
“So I think we’ll continue our dialogue with them, and hopefully have something productive come out of that,” the CSX chief said.
Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.