Ag group supports updating railroad legislation

Farmer groups and ag retailers are supporting federal legislation designed to improve rail service.  The Support Reliable Rail Service Act would clarify the common carrier obligations of the railroads and give the Surface Transportation Board more specific oversight rules to improve rail service.

Mike Seyfert is President and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association and supports the bill. “From our shipper-receiver standpoint, it’s to get a definition with teeth and so that when there are issues, say like what we were having back in 2022, particularly in the spring, early summer, that our shippers and receivers know what the rules are, the definitions are that the railroads have an obligation to meet.”

Seyfert says rail shipping is not as difficult as it was a little over a year ago, but the bill would be helpful if overall grain demand rises again. “When that demand does come back, they want to make sure that they have an understanding of what reliable service means under that common carrier obligation so that we can hopefully avoid getting back into some of the situations that we were suffering last year.”

And Seyfert tells Brownfield the legislation could potentially shift more cargo from trucks back to trains..

Seyfert says NGFA’s membership includes shippers, receivers, and the Class I railroads, and they’ve been able to open better lines of communication.  He says the railroads have also been working to solve staff shortage issues.

The Reliable Rail Service Act was re-introduced by Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Republican Roger Marshall of Kansas, who say the definition of the railroad common carrier obligation has been ambiguous since the 1980 Staggers Act deregulating the rail industry.

Seyfert also expects agribusinesses will have fewer problems getting rail cars to transport grain, fertilizer, and other products this year for two reasons. “Those rail shuttles are moving to the export markets in some situations, and so I think that combination of having a little bit shorter wheat crop and reduced export demand would be two factors, I think, that would indicate some of that reduced service that we’re seeing.”

Just over a year ago, Seyfert says it was challenging to move grain by rail with higher demand and because of challenges with railroad service providers. “It really wasn’t so much a shortage of the cars. I would say it was having them and getting them in the right place at the right time and what we were seeing in a lot of those instances was a lot of that was tracing back to crew shortages.”

Seyfert says the Class I railroads, like other businesses, have been working to hire more people.

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