Key Notes:

  • Authorizes STB to unilaterally investigate certain alleged Interstate Commerce Act violations.
  • Increases number of members and establishes STB as an independent government agency.
  • Implements other administrative and operational changes.

On December 10, 2015, the House of Representatives passed the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S.808), which is now headed to the White House where President Obama is expected to sign it into law. The bill modifies the STB’s existing structure and operations in several ways.

Specifically, it authorizes the STB to commence investigations into possible violations of the Interstate Commerce Act on its own initiative if the matter is of regional or national significance. Currently, the STB only has the authority to commence such proceedings when it receives a complaint. However, unlike decisions issued pursuant to a complaint, decisions resulting from STB-initiated investigations are not entitled to any deference on appeal, but instead will be reviewed by a court de novo.

S.808 also:

  • Expands the STB from three members to five
  • Removes the STB from the Department of Transportation, establishing it as an independent U.S. agency subject to the DOT Inspector General’s authority to review its management and operations
  • Directs the STB to maintain a database of rail service complaints
  • Requires the STB to post routine reports on its website regarding the status of pending cases
  • Directs the STB to establish a voluntary arbitration process for certain rate and practice complaints
  • Specifies deadlines for adjudication of stand-alone cost rate cases
  • Directs the STB to report to Congress on the sufficiency of methods used in large rate cases, including their effectiveness and complexity

S.808 includes various other provisions to facilitate the STB’s deliberation process, most notably a provision allowing members to privately discuss official business under certain conditions. Previously, STB members were barred from communicating with one another regarding pending matters outside of public meetings, a rule commonly believed to hinder STB operation. S.808 effectively removes this prohibition, subject to certain disclosure requirements and so long as no official STB action is taken during such private discussions.