STB Seeks ‘FMLM’ Service Comments (Updated)

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The Surface Transportation Board has added another entry to the “Railroad Industry Dictionary of Obscure Acronyms”: FMLM, which stands for First-Mile/Last-Mile—what Class II and III railroads do best.

STB on Sept. 2 issued a decision inviting comment on issues regarding FMLM service, which it defines as “the movement of railcars between a local railroad serving yard and a shipper or receiver facility. The Board seeks comment from the shipping community, carriers and the public concerning what, if any, FMLM issues they consider relevant. The Board also seeks comment on whether further examination of FMLM issues is warranted, and what, if any, actions may help address such issues, taking into account the information shippers already receive from carriers. The Board is particularly interested in knowing whether metrics to measure FMLM service that are not now being reported to the Board might have utility for the supply chain, and the potential burdens associated with any such reporting.” 

“Various shipper groups have within the past year raised concerns to the Board about FMLM service and requested greater transparency of FMLM data,” STB said. “In addition, in recent months, the Board has heard from various stakeholders regarding crew shortages and other issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide supply chain complications, all of which have heightened the importance of the Board exploring FMLM service. As a result, the Board seeks comment on possible FMLM service issues, the design of potential metrics to measure such service, and the burdens associated with any suggestions raised by commenters.” 

UPDATE: On Sept. 21, STB issued a decision extending the due dates for comments and replies from Oct. 18, 2021 and Nov. 16, 2021, respectively, to Dec. 17, 2021, and Feb. 17, 2022, respectively. According to the Board, the American Chemistry Council and The Fertilizer Institute on Sept. 7 filed a motion for the extension, noting that “additional time is needed to gather information from their member companies, compile and analyze the material, and prepare substantive comments.” The Association of American Railroads (AAR) on Sept. 13 and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) on Sept. 17 filed separate replies in support of the requested extension.

An excerpt from the First-Mile/Last-Mile Service, Docket No. EP 767, released Sept. 2:

“In addition to weekly and monthly collection of certain railroad performance data metrics from Class I railroads, the Board actively monitors, on an informal basis, the national rail network, including network fluidity and service issues, through, for example, the Railroad-Shipper Transportation Advisory Council (RSTAC), the Rail Customer and Public Assistance Program, and information requests to Class I railroads … Since Spring 2020, the Board has focused its informal monitoring on the effects of and response to the pandemic, engaging in frequent communication4 with carriers, shippers, and other stakeholders … Recently, the Board’s Chairman inquired to each Class I carrier about rail service issues and supply chain issues (including local service issues). The Board appreciates the carriers’ responses to its informal requests and now seeks more formal input from shippers, carriers, and the public focused specifically on FMLM service. As the Board has heard from various stakeholders, in recent months, crew shortages and other issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide supply chain complications have heightened and added to the importance of the Board exploring FMLM service. 

“The Board has received a number of letters about FMLM service issues. For example, the Rail Customer Coalition (RCC) wrote to the Board this year to request, among other things, that the Board ‘adopt new reporting metrics to provide a more complete and useful picture of rail service, including [FMLM] performance’ … Following the Chairman’s May 27, 2021 letters regarding rail service to the Class I carriers, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) wrote to the Board regarding general service concerns, briefly noting local service failures …  and The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) wrote to express general service concerns, which encompass issues such as reductions in days of service to customers, increased dwell times, and car order errors.”

The Sept. 2 and Sept. 21 decisions can be downloaded below:

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