WASHINGTON, D.C. - Long-time rail reform supporters in the Senate recently reintroduced two bills to reform regulation of America's railroad industry.

The two bills would reauthorize and reform the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and make the railroad industry subject to standard antitrust provisions.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced S. 158, the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2011, with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) as an original cosponsor. The bill is very similar to the S. 2889 in the 111th Congress.

Among other things, the bill would require a Class I rail carrier to, upon customer request, establish reasonable bottleneck and terminal switching rates for a bottleneck rail segment in which the carrier has market dominance.

It would also revise criteria under which the STB requires a rail carrier to make its terminal available to another rail carrier and require the STB to establish a binding arbitration process to resolve rail rate, practice and common carrier service disputes.

It would also:

• increase STB membership from three to five members;

• make it an independent agency, rather than under the auspices of the Department of Transportation;

• explicitly make protection of rail shippers an objective of U.S. policy;

• require the STB to appoint a rail customer advocate;

• authorize the STB to investigate issues on its own initiative as well as after a complaint;

• require the STB to establish a database of rail service complaints it has received and post a quarterly report of such complaints on its website; and

• require a number of studies on important rail competition issues.

Another rail-related bill has been introduced by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).The Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act, S. 49, is very similar to S. 146 in the 111th Congress, and it was originally co-sponsored by Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

This bill would effectively remove an antitrust exemption railroads currently enjoy, empowering the Federal Trade Commission to regulate, and engage in antitrust enforcement regarding, collective rate agreements and some railroad transactions.

Importantly, the bill also requires the STB, when reviewing a proposed agreement, to take into account its impact upon shippers, consumers and affected communities.

NAWG was highly supportive of both bills' concepts in the 111th Congress and encourages all Senators to cosponsor and support passage of both newly-introduced bills.

NAWG works in a number of venues to seek solutions to ongoing rail problems experienced by wheat growers, including working for necessary legislative changes. For more about the rail issue, please visit www.wheatworld.org/transportation.

For more about either of the new bills, please search for them by bill number at thomas.loc.gov.

SOURCE: National Association of Wheat Growers