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NGFA supports proposal requiring railroads to make info available online

doranjclark_iStock_Thinkstock freight rail hoppers and grain silos
Proposal to require Class I railroads openly supply information to public.

The National Grain & Feed Assn. (NGFA) recently expressed its support for the Surface Transportation Board's (STB) proposal to require Class I railroads to post and make available common carrier tariff rates and service terms for agricultural products and fertilizer on their respective websites.

STB proposed the rule to update its 20-year-old regulations to reflect the fact that Class I railroads have begun making common carrier tariff rates and service terms available on their websites rather than in paper form. Such information is required to be made available under the Interstate Commerce Termination Act of 1995.

In a statement submitted to the agency on Feb. 21, NGFA noted that some carriers currently erect barriers to accessing tariff rates and service terms through cumbersome and time-consuming registration requirements or password-protection requirements that preclude the public from accessing such information. As such, the organization said it strongly supports STB's proposal to make the information available to all persons, not just the customers or prospective customers of the given railroad, and urged the agency to refine its proposal to prohibit impediments that currently exist on some carriers' websites.

"The STB should make it abundantly clear in its final regulations that such registration features must provide for immediate and unrestricted access to any person - not just current or potential customers - of all tariff rates, pricing information and all applicable service terms and conditions for agricultural commodities and fertilizer," the group stated.

Additionally, NGFA urged STB to require Class II and III railroads that voluntarily decide to provide tariff and service terms on their websites to do so under the same rules for transparency, accessibility and format usability that are required of Class I railroads.

The organization also commended STB for issuing a clarifying policy statement contained in the same proposed rule-making document that would allow farmers, agricultural producers and state attorneys general (on behalf of farmers or shippers) to be potentially eligible to be granted standing to bring a rate challenge - and to aggregate their rate claims - at STB, even though they have not been directly harmed and/or are not direct payers of rail freight. Current law expressly allows grain producers and other indirectly harmed parties to challenge unreasonable freight rates by filing complaints before the agency.

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