STB Chairman: Board To Act 'Soon' In Wake Of Rail Hearings
05/24/2012| 04:01pm US/Eastern
By Bob Sechler
A top regulator of the U.S. freight rail sector said Thursday his agency is close to taking some action in the long-running feud between railroads and shippers over pricing and service levels.
Dan Elliott, chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, said in an interview following a speech here that the most likely course is for the agency to issue "ideas" to help resolve the conflicts and then solicit input.
But "it will be something of substance," Elliott said.
He declined to say precisely when the STB may weigh in but said it would be "soon"--which he defined as anywhere from two weeks to four months.
Railroads and shippers participated in a series of often-heated hearings last summer regarding competition in the sector. But the STB, the arm of the Department of Transportation that oversees the freight rail sector, has yet to take any action in the wake of the hearings, a delay that has frustrated shippers.
Elliott said the board and its staff have been busy analyzing the huge amount of data and testimony it collected on the issue.
The so-called rail renaissance that started in 2004 has seen the railroad industry's financial fortunes rebound, with rising shipping rates and freight volume driving record earnings among the top operators that dominate the sector. But shippers have long complained that the recovery has been partly at their expense, prompting calls for more regulations.
Elliott, the lunchtime speaker Thursday at a shippers conference here that was partly sponsored by the railroads, told those in attendance that the wait for the STB to tip its hand is nearing an end.
"We are getting closer and closer to having something come out," he said. "I think it's going to be in the near future."
He declined afterward to comment extensively on what the action might be. But he swore off one STB option: doing nothing.
"There will be something coming out," Elliott said.
-By Bob Sechler, Dow Jones Newswires; 512-258-1690; firstname.lastname@example.org