Caught between pressure from captive shippers and strong opposition from railroads, industry regulators chose Friday to delay making any decision on whether to impose more competitive switching rules.
The three-person Surface Transportation Board, meeting a procedural deadline to respond to a petition from the National Industrial Transportation League, says it will defer consideration of the shipper group’s request for tougher switching rules. The STB said that this “reciprocal switching” issue is part of a broader set of rail competition and shipper issues it is already reviewing.
“In an effort to conserve and use efficiently the board’s resources, we will defer a decision granting or denying NITL’s request to institute a rulemaking pending our review” of concerns raised in lengthy hearings earlier this year on the overall state of rail industry competition.
The NITL, trying to force action, had filed a limited proposal in July aimed just at making some freight switching more competitive, using a timed regulatory process that meant the board had to respond no later than Nov. 4.
That led rail industry analysts and shippers to speculate on whether the STB might actually order some changes in rail rules that allow originating carriers to lock in shipments all the way to distant destinations. Shippers say that keeps many loads captive to a single carrier and paying higher rates than if they could get competing bids for the long haul.
However, the STB decision was the least the board could do, responding but taking no action, and giving no indication when it might act. NITL President Bruce Carlton said the shipper group is “extremely disappointed” by the regulator’s response, “which indefinitely delays action on the critical problems faced by captive shippers and proposed solutions presented in our petition.”