STB increases railway reporting requirements

All Class 1 railroads will be required to file weekly data reports on service performance.

The Surface Transportation Board announced Wednesday that it is requiring all Class I railroads to publicly file weekly data reports beginning Oct. 22 regarding service performance to promote industry-wide transparency, accountability, and improved service.

Previously it had only been requiring Canadian Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe to report weekly status reports.

The order follows the Board's recent public hearings regarding rail service issues, at which many rail shippers expressed concerns about the lack of publicly available rail service metrics and requested access to certain performance data from the railroads to help them better understand the scope, magnitude, and impact of the current service problems, the STB said in its announcement.

“STB is taking needed action to hold the railroads accountable, require more transparency from the railroads on all products shipped on the rails, and make sure all products – whether grain, oil, coal or anything else – are treated equally and fairly in how they are transported,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., S.D.).  

The order requires all Class I railroads throughout the country to release more data of all rail shipments, not just agriculture shipments, moving forward. This data includes average speeds, dwell times, number of cars loaded and emptied, weekly number of grain cars ordered, loaded, billed, overdue, and cancelled by state, and more. Such data will allow the STB to see any changes in delays of agriculture shipments, and if there are similar delays of other products, such as crude oil and coal.

The Association of American Railroads in a statement said since 1999, railroads on a weekly basis voluntarily provided the STB and the public with railroad performance measures on terminal dwell time, velocity and cars online. “It is unclear how the increased reporting requirements will in any way lead to improved service,” the group said.

At a hearing this spring and this fall, carriers cited congestion in Chicago as on significant cause of the service problems. STB is requiring that the Class I railroads operating at the Chicago gateway jointly file on a weekly basis a summary of operating conditions at the gateway including average daily car counts in key Chicago terminals and average daily number of trains held for delivery.

“For more than eight months, our farmers and grain elevators have lost out because of serious agriculture shipment delays across the state,” said Heitkamp. “To stop these delays, prevent them in the future, and help our farmers do their jobs, we need to hold the railroads accountable.”

Heitkamp said she’s been in regular contact with STB Chairman Daniel Elliot and she said he understands the serious consequences of delays on the rails.

Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, introduced a bill to help reform STB earlier this fall. He said while his committee and STB continue efforts to address the short and long-term challenges that face shippers and freight railroads regarding high shipping demand and backlogs, “there are no magic solutions.”

However, the additional information sought by the STB Board “should help ensure that railroads, shippers and Congress all work from the same facts toward possible solutions,” he added.

Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) added that the information will also help shippers and agriculture producers make informed decisions as they work to get their products to market.

“However, there is still more to be done,” he stated. “We are going to continue our push to ensure railroads make the much-needed investments in rail infrastructure and personnel to resolve existing rail delays, especially during harvest, and prevent future delays.”

Hoeven reported that last month CP committed to investing more than $1.3 billion in capital investments in 2014, including $500 million of upgrades in its U.S. system over the next two years. Of the $500 million, CP plans to invest $180 million to increase capacity, including new sidings and centralized train control. He said that BNSF committed to invest $5 billion in new resources this year, including approximately $600 million in the Northern Corridor.

AAR said railroads are investing and hiring at an accelerated pace to provide the capacity needed to meet growing demand as traffic continues to rebound to pre-recession levels. “Hiring and training people, and building infrastructure take time,” AAR said in a statement.

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