The Board Requires Reporting from Class I Carriers in Response to Concerns Raised at the Public Hearing on Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service

On May 6, 2022, the Surface Transportation Board (Board) issued a decision ordering certain reporting from Class I carriers, in response to concerns raised at the public hearing held on April 26 and 27, 2022 on urgent issues in freight rail service.  Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service, EP 770 (Sub-No. 1) (STB served May 6, 2022).

In a decision served on April 7, 2022, the Board announced that it would hold a public hearing concerning recent rail service issues and recovery efforts involving several Class I carriers.  Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service, EP 770, slip op. at 1 (STB served Apr. 7, 2022).

The Board stated that, in recent weeks, it had informally heard from a variety of stakeholders about inconsistent and unreliable rail service, including tight car supply and unfulfilled car orders, delays in transportation for carload and bulk traffic, increased origin dwell time for released unit trains, missed switches, and ineffective customer assistance.  Id., slip op. at 2.  Additionally, the Board has received reports from stakeholders about the serious impact of these service issues on rail users, particularly shippers of agricultural and energy products.  Id.  The Board further stated that it has been closely monitoring weekly rail service performance data submitted pursuant to 49 C.F.R. part 1250, and the data validate the anecdotal information that had been reported to the Board.  Id.  The Board stated that it “has determined that the service issues may have reached a level that requires action by the Board.”  Id.

The Board directed executive-level officials of BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT), Norfolk Southern Railway Company (NSR), and Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP) to appear at the hearing “to discuss the recent rail service problems, each carrier’s ongoing and planned efforts to improve service, and each carrier’s estimated timeline for recovery of normal service levels.”  Id., slip op. at 1.  The Board also directed each railroad to address the extent to which crew shortages may have contributed to these service issues and their plans, if any, to change and improve their hiring and employee retention policies to alleviate the crew shortages that appear to be among the central causes of the current service issues.  Id., slip op. at 3.  

The Board noted that it was directing BNSF, CSXT, NSR, and UP to appear “because most recent service issues involve these four carriers.”  Id., slip op. at 3 n.3.  In addition, because the service problems have also been occurring to some degree on an industry-wide basis, the Board invited executive-level officials of Canadian National Railway Company (CN), Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCS), and Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CP) to appear.  Id., slip op. at 3.  The Board also encouraged affected rail customers, labor organizations, and other interested parties to appear at the hearing “to discuss their service concerns and comment on carriers’ efforts toward service recovery.”  Id.

The public hearing was held on April 26 and 27, 2022.  Numerous parties appeared at the hearing, including BNSF, CSXT, NSR, UP, CN and CP; U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg; the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission; shippers; and labor organizations.  See Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service, EP 770, slip op. at 2-6 (STB served Apr. 22, 2022).

Following the hearing, the Board issued a decision in Docket No. EP 770 (Sub-No. 1), stating that, while the Board appreciates the description of the efforts and timelines for recovery presented by Class I carriers at the public hearing, “[t]he Board finds . . . that immediate action is needed to address the significant service problems detailed in the record in Docket No. EP 770—many of which are implicated in some fashion in other pending dockets as well.”  Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service, EP 770 (Sub-No. 1), slip op. at 3 (STB served May 6, 2022).  Thus, as an initial step, the Board is requiring certain service recovery reporting from BNSF, CSXT, NSR, and UP on a temporary basis.  Id., slip op. at 4.  According to the Board, “the information submitted by the carriers will help the Board better understand the current service problems, progress being made to resolve them, and whether additional regulatory action by the Board is warranted.”  Id.  Additionally, the information is intended to promote industry-wide transparency, accountability, and improvements in rail service.  Id.  The Board further stated that it is requiring “certain reporting requirements to apply to all Class I carriers so that the Board can assess the current service issues across the rail network as a whole.”  Id.

In a decision served on June 13, 2022, the Board stated that the rail carriers had submitted the first week of required performance data and related service recovery plans on May 18 and May 20, 2022, respectively, and the service data “revealed even more extensive service delays and reliability problems than captured by the Board’s existing data collection program.”  Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service, EP 770 (Sub-No. 1), slip op. at 2 (STB served June 13, 2022).  Additionally, the data showed “a concerningly high occurrence of recrews due to trains arriving late at terminals.”  Id., slip op. at 3. 

The Board ordered the carriers to submit revised service recovery plans and provide additional information on their actions to improve service and communications with customers.  See id., slip op. at 18-19.

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