U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, a Florida lawmaker with considerable influence over transport matters, said that she would not support the freight rail reform legislation making its way through the Senate if it calls for re-regulating the industry.
Speaking at a transportation and infrastructure conference in Washington, D.C., Brown, who chairs the House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, said she is convinced that the nation's freight rail system is the best in the world and that it should not be tampered with. "I am not re-regulating our freight rail system," Brown said.
The bill (S. 2889), which was approved in mid-December by the Senate Commerce Committee, is considered the most comprehensive piece of rail reform legislation since the 1980 Staggers Act, which deregulated the industry. Sponsored by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WVa.), the current bill provides protections to "captive shippers" who cannot use any other transport mode; improves shippers access to other carriers, trackage, and terminals; and expands the membership of the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency which rules on rail mergers, from three to five.
Shippers have lauded the bill as a way to open up competitive options for those who are captive not just to rail service in general but to a single railroad. In announcing its support for the bill in mid-February, the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), one of the nation's oldest and largest shipper groups, called the bill a bipartisan, fair compromise that balances the competitive interests of the nation's railroads and their customers. (For NITL President Bruce Carlton's views on bill, please see our exclusive interview on DCV-TV.)