STB Eyes Emergency Service Rules Revision

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is seeking comments by May 23 on a proposal to amend its emergency service regulations “to provide relief for shippers in situations that require immediate relief.”

In its April 22 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM; download below), the STB specifically proposes to:

• “amend procedures for parties seeking a Board order directing an incumbent carrier to take action to remedy a service emergency. [Emergency service orders, according to STB, “are designed to preserve rail service where there has been a substantial rail service issue or failure that requires immediate relief.”]

• “indicate that the Board may act on its own initiative to direct emergency service.

• “modify the informational requirements for parties in emergency service proceedings.

• “shorten the filing deadlines in emergency service proceedings and establish a timeframe for Board decisions.

• “establish an accelerated process for certain acute service emergencies.”

The rule changes would enable STB “to order temporary relief in emergency situations more quickly and effectively, to more rapidly ensure that localized problems do not spread to other parts of the network, and to give parties involved in emergency situations (both rail carriers and shippers) more certainty on the resolution of those issues,” the STB wrote in the NPRM.

“For several years, the Board has gathered information showing that the existing emergency service rules are too cumbersome to be of use to shippers in need of immediate relief,” STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman said. “This proposed rule would make it possible for a shipper to receive relief in a short but reasonable amount of time during an emergency. Given the persistent and serious problems presently affecting freight rail service, it is important for the Board to consider new approaches for providing much needed relief to rail customers, not only for the customers’ benefit, but for the well-being of the nation’s economy and all consumers.”

STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman

Once comments are submitted, replies are due by June 6, 2022, according to STB, which noted that “[c]onsidering the consistent and pervasive nature of these service issues, the Board is limiting the comment period to 30 days and the reply period to 15 days.”

Additionally, the STB reported the proposal for amendments to the emergency service rules is “in no way intended to be a substitute for the Board’s ongoing consideration of whether to adopt the reciprocal switching rule changes proposed in pending Reciprocal Switching, Docket No. EP 711 (Sub-No. 1). Mr. Oberman said that work on that proposal will continue as one of his priorities for the Board’s attention this year.”

In related developments, STB is conducting an in-person hearing April 26-27 (EP 770, Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service) with the CEOs of the “Big Four” Class I railroads—BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific—on service problems.  

The agency has also invited public comment by June 30, 2022, on a Petition for Rulemaking that would update the demurrage and accessorial rules governing the railroads’ use and handling of privately owned freight cars.

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