Rails Seek Delay of STB Competition Hearing

Rails Seek Delay of STB Competition Hearing

The railroad industry is asking the Surface Transportation Board to put off its scheduled May 3 hearing on whether regulators should order freight railroads to give their shippers greater access to competing rail service.

Shipper groups, in reply, are telling the STB they could accept a short delay, but are lining up against any lengthy extension.

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association said the current schedule, of submitting initial comments by Feb. 18 and replies a month later, bumps into its preparations for the separate Feb. 24 hearing on cargo exemptions. And the competition issue, it said, "is an enormously complex topic, critical not only to the small railroad industry but to the entire national economy as well."

The ASLRRA proposed a 90-day delay in initial comments, followed by 60 days for replies, a schedule that would put off any STB hearing until August or later. The Association of American Railroads, which represents the Class I carriers plus a few regional lines, proposed a shorter extension that would delay a hearing perhaps until mid-summer.

A broad combination of shipper groups said they would not oppose the AAR plan, which would extend for 60 days until April 19 the time for filing initial comments, and then 45 days more for replies. Among them were the National Industrial Transportation League, Concerned Captive Coal Shippers, American Chemistry Council plus groups representing paper, grain and fertilizer shippers.

However, the activist group Consumers United for Rail Equity said it opposes any extension, and urged the STB to extend its schedule no more than 30 days if it sees the need for any schedule change.

-- Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.