STB may delay decision to accommodate new members

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WASHINGTON — The Surface Transportation Board has bent over backwards to accommodate all parties involved with the contentious issue of reciprocal switching. Now it appears that board members could further delay proceedings to accommodate new members of the board.

“Given that the board is in a time of transition, with potential changes to the Board’s membership due to the changeover in the administration, the board finds it appropriate to make adjustments to the procedural schedule,” according to an STB statement on Dec. 27.

Congress passed the STB Reauthorization Act in December 2015, which calls for an expansion of the board from three to five members. The Trump administration has the opportunity to appoint two new members. No one has been nominated so far.

The board already has extended comment deadlines at the request of both railroads and shippers. The latest deadline in the comment process passed Jan. 13. When the STB published a proposed reciprocal switching rule on July 25, 2016, comments were due by Sept. 1. At the request of the Association of American Railroads and shipper groups, the deadline was extended to Oct. 26, 2016. Jan. 13 was the deadline for groups to file replies to comments.

In the next step of the process, parties may schedule meetings with board members between Jan. 30 and Feb. 17. But the board said that schedule might be modified in a future decision.

Nearly 30 groups filed comments and responses to the proposed rule in the first two weeks of January. A sampling of comments shows there is still a wide gap between carriers and shippers.

“The STB’s proposal to reduce these regulatory barriers is not only consistent with the board’s statutory mandate, it is good for manufacturers, farmers and energy providers in West Virgnia and across the U.S.,” according to the West Virginia Manufacturers Association.

“Shippers have laid bare their desire to use the board’s proposal to create an unlawful alternative path to rate regulation,” Norfolk Southern's comment said.

“Shippers' comments make it clear that their intent is to seek a back-door means of obtaining rate relief without having to file a rate complaint as required by statute,” according to Kansas City Southern.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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