STB issues SNPR for rail reporting requirements

By Erin Voegele | May 20, 2016

In early May, the Surface Transportation Board published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPR) that aims to update pending regulations requiring Class I railroads to report certain service metrics, including data on ethanol and grain unit trains, on a weekly basis. Public comments on the proposal are being accepted through May 31.

According to information posted in the Federal Register, the STB initiated this rulemaking in response to service problems that began to emerge in the railroad industry in late 2013. Those service problems affected the transportation of a wide variety of commodities, including grain, fertilizer, ethanol, coal, automobiles, chemicals, propane, consumer goods, crude oil and industrial commodities.

The STB held two public hearings on the matter in 2014, including one that featured testimony from two South Dakota-based ethanol producers. During and after those hearings, parties expressed concerns about the lack of publicly available information related to rail service and requested access to performance data from railroads to better understand the scope, magnitude and impact of service issues, along with underlying causes and prospects for recovery, said the STB in the notice.

In October 2014, the STB issued an order requiring all Class I railroads and the Class I railroad members of the Chicago Transportation Coordination Office to file weekly reports containing certain performance data, including weekly average train speeds, weekly average terminal dwell times, weekly average cars online, number of trains held short of destination, and loading metrics for grain and coal service, among other information. The October 2014 order was issued on a temporary basis, with the STB indicating it would pursue rulemaking to consider whether to make the reporting requirements permanent.  

In January 2015, the STB published a proposed rule that aimed to make the weekly reporting requirements permanent. The rule proposed nine weekly metrics to be reported, including system average train speed; weekly average terminal dwell time; weekly average cars online; weekly average dwell time at origin or interchange; weekly total number of loaded and empty trains held short of destination or scheduled interchange; daily average number of loaded and empty cars operating in normal movement which have not moved in specified periods of time; weekly total number of grain cars loaded and billed, by state; total overdue car order, average days late, total new order in the past week, total orders filled in the past week, and number of orders cancelled in the past week; and weekly total coal unit train loadings or carloadings by region.

In the new rulemaking, the STB said following receipt of comments in response to the January 2015 proposed rule, it issued an order announcing it would waive its ex parte communications rules in order to allow STB staff to hold meetings with interested parties to develop a more complete record with regard to technical issues in the proceeding. The new SNPR has been issued by the STB to revise the proposed rule. Within the SNRP, the STB describes several specific changes included in the updated rulemaking.

Comments on the SNPR are due May 31, with reply comments due June 28. Additional information is available on the Federal Register website.