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Senate Committee Takes on Rail Delays

The Senate Commerce Committee passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday that gives the Surface Transportation Board more clout to deal with grain shipping delays on railroads in the northern Plains. But don’t count on the rest of Congress doing anything soon.

“I am pleased the committee was able to work together to pass these commonsense improvements to the STB,” said Senator John Thune (R-SD), who sponsored the bill along with committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “While there is more work to be done to address the concerns that agriculture producers and other shippers face, providing targeted improvements to the STB ensures that it functions as the regulatory body that Congress envisioned, while not stifling the railroads with additional regulations that can reduce infrastructure investment.”

Thune and Rockefeller’s bill would allow board members to work together in a more streamlined approach. Their bill would also expand the STB board membership from three to five members and allow for limited board meetings without initial public meeting notice, but with later public disclosure. The bill would allow the board to initiate some investigations, not just respond to complaints, and would also require the STB to establish a database of complaints and prepare quarterly reports on them.

Don’t look for any more action on this soon, however.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who supports the bill, told this week that he doesn’t expect the Senate to do much before it recesses for fall election campaigning. He looks for a vote on a continuing resolution to fund government programs and avoid a government shutdown.

Grassley said the Thune bill likely won’t come up for a vote until after the election in November.

“After the election, harvest will be over,” Grassley said.

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