The Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued two decisions last week before the holiday. First, it proposed new regulations requiring permanent weekly reporting of detailed railroad performance data. Second, it addressed coal stockpile problems at BNSF-served utilities, ordering BNSF to detail its contingency plans in the event that unexpected circumstances cause critically low coal stockpiles at regionally significant coal-powered electric generating stations. The STB invited stakeholders to submit comments on both decisions.
Railroad Performance Data Reporting
In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued December 30, 2014, the STB proposed new regulations that would formalize the requirement for the nation’s Class I railroads and the Chicago Transportation Coordination Office (CTCO) to publicly file certain rail performance data on a weekly basis. If adopted by the STB, these regulations would revise and make permanent the reporting of rail performance data by Class I railroads and the CTCO that was ordered by the STB in October 2014 in response to nationwide rail service problems and the request of shippers and elected officials for more detailed information about railroad performance.
The STB stated that the proposed regulations are intended to serve two primary goals. First, they would improve the STB’s ability to identify and help resolve future regional and national rail service problems. Second, they would aid shippers and other rail stakeholders in planning business operations and making informed decisions.
The information required from the covered railroads would include items such as:
- system-average train speed according to train type (intermodal, grain unit, coal unit, automotive unit, crude oil unit, ethanol unit, manifest and all other),
- average terminal dwell time,
- average cars on-line by car type,
- trains held short of destination for more than six hours,
- billed cars that have not moved for over 48 hours, and
- daily car volume in certain Chicago-area rail yards.
The STB is requesting comments from any interested party regarding the proposed regulations. Although comments may address any aspect of the proposed regulations, the STB has specifically requested comment on the following:
- whether data reporting should be required,
- whether other entities should be required to report data (such as the Belt Railway of Chicago or the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad, both of which are key Chicago-area shortline railroads),
- the commodity types included in the proposed regulations,
- the proposed geographical parameters,
- the limited exception for the Kansas City Southern Railway,
- whether other data should be required, and
- any other suggested modifications to the proposal.
Comments are due March 2, 2015, and Reply Comments are due April 29, 2015. If you are interested in submitting comments or would like further information about the proposed regulations, please contact any member of Thompson Hine’s Transportation practice group.
BNSF’s Coal Supply Contingency Plans
Also on December 30, 2014, the STB issued a decision directing the BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) to explain its contingency plans in the event that unexpected circumstances cause critically low coal stockpiles at one or more regionally significant coal-powered electric generating stations. The information required from BNSF includes not only a description of how BNSF identifies generating stations at critical stockpile levels, but also the equipment, infrastructure and personnel resources that would be used to respond to such a situation. BNSF is directed to submit the requested information by January 29th.
The STB issued its decision in response to a petition filed by the Western Coal Traffic League in October 2014. However, there has been widespread concern among electric utilities, elected officials and others regarding low coal stockpiles at BNSF-served power plants for much of the past year. Furthermore, BNSF’s problems in meeting the needs of its electric utility customers are just one aspect of larger rail service delays and problems that are still ongoing and have been well-recognized throughout the rail industry.
As part of its decision, the STB also invited electric utilities and other coal stakeholders to submit status reports regarding coal stockpile levels and railroads’ service in transportation of coal. Information may be submitted under seal if desired. The information submitted by BNSF, utilities and coal stakeholders will assist the STB in determining whether further regulatory steps are needed to address rail service problems involving coal transportation.