NIT LEAGUE WANTS BIG CHANGES IN BOARD APPROACH TO RAIL SERVICE

NIT LEAGUE WANTS BIG CHANGES IN BOARD APPROACH TO RAIL SERVICE

The National Industrial Transportation League is using the Surface Transportation Board's hearing this week on rail competitiveness to push for broad changes in the agency's approach to rail service issues.

''The league believes an increase in rail-to-rail competition would be beneficial (and) would lead to greater efficiencies, encourage service improvements, stimulate innovation, protect consumers of rail transportation and advance the long-term competitiveness of American business,'' the shipper group said in a filing with the agency.The NIT League urged changes in rail merger policy and new steps to increase use of trackage rights and reciprocal switching to increase carrier choices.

The shippers are one of at least 50 groups that submitted testimony to the STB in advance of a two-day agency hearing that begins Thursday.

Another key complaint was the NIT League's view that the STB accepted flawed arguments by the railroads that real rates had fallen precipitously in the past two decades.

The NIT League maintained that the carriers' reliance on statistics developed by the Association of American Railroads created a false impression about the extent of rate reductions. The shippers debunked carrier claims that increasing competition amounted to reregulation.

''The league's rail policies emphasize the need for pervasive rail-to-rail competition. This is not a ''reregulatory approach; it is a profoundly deregulatory one,'' the shipper group said.

The comments stopped short of advocating major legislative change, but sounded this warning: ''If the trend toward increasing rail concentration and decreasing rail-to-rail competition is not quickly reversed, calls to re-regulate the industry will be difficult to resist.''

The NIT League pushed for reversal of a 1996 STB ruling called the ''bottleneck case'' that set procedures for developing rates on portions of shipments where customers had no choice of carriers.

It also criticized the agency's approach for determining whether rates charged by carriers are reasonable, saying the procedures are cumbersome and do not help in situations where customers are harmed by chronic rail service problems.

''The board's rate-reasonableness procedures cannot solve shippers' service problems,'' the NIT League filing said. ''A captive shipper with a reasonable rate and poor service is largely without remedy, as the UP (Union Pacific Railroad) service debacle has graphically demonstrated.''