Major rail shipper groups are once again urging Congress to take up the cause of rail reform. The three groups, the American CHemiätry Council, Consumers United for Rail Equity and the Alliance for Rail Competition, support a bill introduced in the Senate addressing policy relating to so-called captive shippers. Captive shippers are those served by only one railroad either at origin or destination. For many years, rail shippers have complained that the lack of competition leaves captive shippers at an economic disadvantage.
The groups, which represent rail customers in the agriculture, electric utility, chemicals, pulp and paper, and glass industries, contend that the latest proposal, the Rail Competition Act of 2003, would improve the commercial relationship between railroads and captive shippers. The proposal would require that the railroads quote rates to customers; provide for arbitration of specific rate, service and other disputes; allow the federal Surface Transportation Board to impose customer remedies in states or regions formally determined to be areas with inadequate rail competition; and sharply reduce filing fees for STB rate cases.
According to an analysis by the National Industrial Transportation League, the bill, S. 919, aims to promote competition among rail carriers at origins and destinations, maintain reasonable rates in the absence of effective competition, maintain consistent and efficient rail transportation service for shippers (including the timely provision of railcars), and ensure that smaller carload and intermodal shippers have access to rail systems. The league's board of directors voted in May to recommend support of the bill.
While the railroads' major lobbying organization, the Association of American Railroads, did not reply directly to the latest proposal, the group and its members have generally fought what they call attempts at rail reregulation.