Frank N. Wilner is author of six books, including, Amtrak: Past, Present, Future; Understanding the Railway Labor Act; and, Railroad Mergers: History, Analysis, Insight. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics and labor relations from Virginia Tech. He has been assistant vice president, policy, for the Association of American Railroads; a White House appointed chief of staff at the Surface Transportation Board; and director of public relations for the United Transportation Union. He is a past president of the Association of Transportation Law Professionals.
News item: Canadian Pacific (CP) is pursuing a hostile takeover of Norfolk Southern (NS). CP is asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether NS and other U.S.-based major railroads—some of which oppose the takeover—are unlawfully conspiring for “the primary purpose of restraining trade.” CP says “fear of competition does not justify the collective action of competitors.” Yet the Supreme Court long ago ruled that “joint efforts to influence public officials, such as railroad regulators, do not violate the antitrust laws even though intended to eliminate competition.”
On January 5, 2016, Reuters published a story containing excerpts of letters reportedly sent to the Surface Transportation Board by industry groups representing several major Norfolk Southern freight customers. The letters ask the STB to reject a merger of Canadian Pacific and NS, should a merger application be filed. We contacted the STB for copies of those letters and came up empty.
The critical takeaway from enactment in December of the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act, S.808, is that, absent headline-capturing abuse of captive shippers by railroads, it is unlikely Congress will refocus anytime soon on diluting railroad market power.
Levitation takes two forms among railroads—magnetic levitation relating to futuristic high-speed passenger transport, and stock levitation associated with bidding wars for asset control.
Few obstacles bedevil railroads as has the Mississippi River. Spanning it was the nation’s first rail bridge in 1856—promptly assaulted by steamboat Effie Afton. While the bridge was repaired and more constructed, the river remains a problematic divide, separating, with few exceptions, eastern railroads from those operating in the West and producing grueling interchange bottlenecks at Chicago.
Imagine sharing with two equally qualified colleagues the decision-making authority affecting long-term railroad service quality, profitability and capital investment. Such is the power of the three Senate-confirmed members of the STB—Chairman Dan Elliott and Deb Miller, both Democrats; and Republican Ann Begeman.
Here’s a mystery for you, but don’t anticipate—as in the board game, “Clue”—that it’s “Col. Mustard, in the library, with a candlestick.” The perp here is the U.S. Senate—the deed done under the Capitol Dome and with a pen (okay, a word processor).
Syntax-challenged George W. Bush was bang-on correct in saying, “You got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in.” So it is with Positive Train Control (PTC)—a $14 billion safety overlay utilizing computers, transponders and GPS to stop or slow a train automatically before certain types of accidents occur.
In a historic first, and in a rail industry whose labor and management leadership ranks long have been dominated by Caucasian males, the first all-female Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) in the 78-year history of PEBs has been created to investigate and make recommendations in a collective bargaining dispute involving New Jersey Transit (NJT) and 16 of its rail labor unions.
Following almost six months of unemployment, and nearly a year of dining on the gristle of uncertainty, Dan Elliott is returning to the Surface Transportation Board following voice-vote Senate confirmation June 22. President Obama previously said he would rename Elliott as agency chairman upon confirmation. Fellow Democrat Deb Miller has been serving as acting chairman of the three-member STB since Jan. 1.