Sensible economic rail regulation

When it comes to regulating freight railroad rates and service, there are two truisms to consider.

First, some shippers, such as farmers or manufacturers, sometimes lack multiple rail shipping options. And challenging rates through available options at the federal government is a laborious, inefficient and expensive process.

On the flip side, however, freight rail transportation is an essential part of the United States economy and infrastructure network. Blunt force regulatory action is not only unnecessary, but would be counterproductive to improving outcomes for shippers and railroads alike, and would be in direct conflict with the deregulatory agenda favored by the current administration.

At issue is a prolonged debate that has pitted industry against industry. More specifically, a debate between a segment of companies and industry groups who use rail to ship products, and the private rail carriers who own and maintain the network. The squabble dates back as far as 1980, when Congress partially deregulated the rail sector – allowing it greater freedom to set rates and run operations with minimal government interference – but now is contested in earnest at the Surface Transportation Board (STB), an independent agency of the federal government responsible for resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers.

With the U.S. Senate confirming two new Members to the Board in January and expectations for the White House and Senate to imminently fill the two remaining vacancies, policy debates previously on a bridge to nowhere may soon find solid ground.

Read more of this The Hill article by Brigham A. McCown by clicking here.