AAR to STB: No “quick fix” to service issues

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Written by

Marybeth Luczak, Editor-in-Chief

“Class I railroads recognize that their recent service performance has not met the expectations of many customers,” the Association of American Railroads (AAR) wrote in a May 18 filing to the Surface Transportation Board (STB ). But while the STB’s May 5 decision to publish updated and more comprehensive rules for reporting performance and employment metrics “reflects an understandable desire for quick action”, it has “not been published. in a vacuum,” AAR said.

The STB’s eight-part regulations, which primarily affect the “Big 4” – BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific – include the filing of service recovery plans by May 20, followed by frequent progress reports and bi-weekly conference calls with STB staff.

“The Board is requiring service restoration plans and progress reports from the four largest U.S. rail carriers and directing those carriers to participate in bi-weekly conference calls to further explain efforts to correct service deficiencies,” it said. summed up the STB in announcing its May 5 ruling, which came just over a week after its April 26-27 hearing on “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service.” “The Board also requires all Class I rail carriers to report more comprehensive, customer-focused performance metrics and employment data for a six-month period. In response to concerns raised during the recent hearing and related submissions, the Board is taking this action to inform its assessment of what additional measures may be warranted to address the acute service issues facing the rail industry and to promote transparency. , accountability, and improving rail service.

Photo by Larry Gross, Gross Transportation Consulting (www.intermodalindepth.com)

“AAR members also respect and share the Board’s desire to quickly remedy the situation,” wrote AAR attorney J. Frederick Miller Jr. in the association’s May 18 filing (do scroll to download). “In fact, several Class I railroads had voluntarily begun providing the Board with relevant information prior to the Board’s decision. It is this respect that drives AAR Class I Railroad members to comply with the ruling as best they can within this shortened reporting deadline despite the legal concerns that drive this letter.

But he explained that “[a]s the Commission repeatedly acknowledges that there are other ongoing procedures – including first mile/last mile service (EP 767) and revisions to regulations for expedited relief for service emergencies (EP 762) – which are also focused on the provision of data relating to the service or for which this data is relevant. Indeed, the ongoing FMLM proceeding presents the specific questions of whether certain data that the Commission orders to be produced now – on an expedited and temporary basis without notice or comment and other regulatory procedures and protections – are relevant, reliable, appropriate and within the scope of the Commission’s power to order on a permanent basis. … The important procedural protections and substantive analyzes required in regulatory proceedings must not be circumvented or rendered moot by the Commission’s decision in this case, or by the railways’ voluntary compliance with the decision.

He pointed out as an example that “there is no explanation from the Commission as to how specific requested pieces of information will help it monitor current service challenges. Nor is there an explanation of why the Commission’s current stringent service reporting rules are insufficient for its purposes. Without notice or comment, stakeholders were not given the opportunity to help tailor the data to be collected to the Council’s needs given the current circumstances in the United States. Stakeholders also could not guarantee that the Council ordered the publication of information that would be useful to it and that would not confuse or mislead the public.

Moreover, he wrote that the STB’s decision “contains no analysis or consideration for the charges it imposes. As a general rule, government data collections should be subject to Red Tape Reduction Act analysis and should also contain cost-benefit analysis, whether formal or informal, both of which contribute ensure the need for collection, while taking into account the burdens on regulated entities. Although the Office does not yet carry out cost-benefit analyses, as part of the FMLM procedure the Office has rightly requested information to weigh the costs and burdens of the very publication of the data ordered here . While this decision and the burdens it imposes are time-limited, the decision threatens, but certainly should not, overrule the cost-benefit analysis that the Commission has indicated it will conduct as part of the FMLM procedure. »

Miller summarized that “Class I Railroads appreciate the urgency of the service issues many customers are experiencing and respect the Board’s efforts to respond and assist. As the Council has recognized, this is a complex situation and not a “quick fix”. Despite their deep concern about the adequacy, usefulness and potential misuse of some of the information the Commission has ordered produced, the railways will do their best to comply while continuing to restore service to that customers deserve.

Download the May 18 AAR filing below:

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