The CEO of Norfolk Southern Railway told investors that railroads are fighting a group of “cynical and short-sighted” shippers who are pursuing a new federal regulatory bill that jeopardizes carrier finances.
Charles W. Moorman, who is also NS’ board chairman and president, made the remarks at a May 13 annual shareholders meeting.
He said NS is regaining freight traffic as the economy continues to recover, and that “your company came out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression in as good or better physical and financial condition than we went in.”
But he warned about events in the nation’s capital “where bright futures have been blighted before.” Moorman said, “We are still engaged in defending against the long-running initiative by a small, but well-funded, group of rail shippers who are attempting to alter the economic regulatory regime which governs us so as to lower their rates, and at the same time seriously damage our ability to earn adequate returns for you our shareholders, and invest in the future.”
He also said that while “relatively few” members of Congress support making significant changes in the current oversight system “unfortunately for us, a couple of those who do hold key committee chairmanships.”
That effort is led by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and who told shippers this month he plans to get his rail competition bill enacted into law this year. He also told rail customers to “keep the faith” and said railroads were “not playing fair” in negotiations to move the bill to the full Senate for a vote.
Moorman said the railroad industry “has been working with the Senate Commerce Committee for well over a year now to try to find common ground.” A committee-passed bill, he said, causes grave concern, but they want our support and we are continuing the dialogue with them. At the end of the day, I still believe that a bill that’s fundamentally bad for our industry cannot be passed.”
He also repeated a complaint that a congressional mandate for carriers to install costly crash-avoidance positive train control systems by the end of 2015 is “the second really bad thing that Washington has done to us.” Carriers are seeking funding help or tax credits for that cost.
But Moorman said officials in both Washington and in state capitals also reflect “the growing belief that rail transportation, for both freight and passengers, must play a much stronger role in helping to solve our nation’s growing transportation problems.”
He said that view is highlighted by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s call “for a complete rethinking of transportation policies and advocating shifting freight traffic off of the highways and onto rails.”
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.