NGFA Supports Proposed Revisions to STB Emergency Service Rules

In comments submitted May 23, 2022 to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) supported STB’s proposal to amend its emergency service regulations.

The NGFA praised STB for its timely proposal, noting that the new measures would empower the Board to act more efficiently and effectively during rail service emergencies.

“The NGFA urges the Board to issue final rules in this proceeding as quickly as possible, given that the current rail service crisis in the United States and the substantial harm it is causing to NGFA members, other rail shippers, and the country’s economy as a whole, is showing no signs of abating anytime soon,” NGFA stated.

STB issued the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on April 23 in which it proposes to: (1) amend procedures for parties seeking a Board order directing an incumbent carrier to take action to remedy a service emergency; (2) indicate that the Board may act on its own initiative to direct emergency service; (3) modify the informational requirements for parties in emergency service proceedings; (4) shorten the filing deadlines in emergency service proceedings and establish a timeframe for Board decisions; and (5) establish an accelerated process for certain acute service emergencies. In comments submitted on May 23, NGFA said it is “very supportive” of STB’s proposed accelerated process to handle acute service emergencies.

The consequences of railroads failing to deliver (grain and feed) supplies can be damaging, and potentially catastrophic, to the health of livestock populations,” NGFA noted. “For this reason, the NGFA asks the Board to clarify that the accelerated process it has proposed may be utilized when there is a clear and present threat to the health of livestock in addition to ‘food security.’”

NGFA praised the proposal’s measure to shorten the process for petitions for emergency service orders but suggested that the Board make it mandatory for an identified alternative carrier to reply to the petition. “In today’s industry there will likely be only one alternative carrier capable of meeting the needs of the shipper in an emergency,” NGFA noted.

“When faced with a request for emergency service from an alternative carrier the Board must weigh all the relevant factors to determine what is in the public interest and do so in a short period of time. Consequently, the STB should err on the side on collecting as much relevant information as possible, as quickly as possible, from the incumbent and the identified alternative carrier.”

Reply comments on the emergency service proposal are due by June 6, 2022. View NGFA full comments here. Read the STB’s proposal here.

STB Chairman Martin Oberman emphasized that the proposed amendments to the emergency service rules “are in no way intended to be a substitute for the Board’s ongoing consideration of whether to adopt the reciprocal switching rule changes,” which he said would continue to be one of his top priorities for the Board this year.

NGFA testified earlier this year in support of finalizing the reciprocal switching rules pending at the STB. More recently, NGFA President and CEO Mike Seyfert testified on behalf of NGFA members during the “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service” hearing called by Oberman on April 26-27.

Source: NGFA