CEI Leads Coalition Opposing Increased Government Interference in Rail Operations

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CEI and 21 other organizations and individuals have signed a letter opposing the misleadingly named Freight Rail Shipping Fair Market Act, which would increase government interference in freight rail operations.

Much of the bill is aimed at giving the Surface Transportation Board more powers, although it is unclear how the Board can use these powers to achieve the bill’s intended purpose of improving rail operations in emergencies. As the letter states:

As an example, the bill gives the board “emergency powers” aimed at clearing bottlenecks in rail operations. Precisely what the board is supposed to do with these powers is unclear besides being able to “require” such things as additional capacity through building more track. Yet the railroads will still have to go through lengthy permitting processes to do so. In the real world, there is no bureaucratic magic wand that will clear bottlenecks, so involving the board in every such situation is in fact likely to lead to greater inefficiencies and delays (the opposite of the bill’s purported intent).

In all, the bill amounts to reintroducing bureaucracy into rail operations in place of the free market system that has operated successfully since the early 1980s. The level of bureaucratic interference the bill allows will surprise most people. Another example from the letter shows:

The bill also directs the board to increase competition through increased common carrier obligations. Once again, this is likely to involve the board in settling more disputes through micromanaging industry operations, up to and including deciding how many customer service representatives are appropriate. This is, as the saying goes, no way to run a railroad.

Finally, as the letter notes, the Board chairman has repeatedly said that he wants to make sure the Board operates in as depoliticized a manner as possible. Congress inserting itself into the Board’s business this way places a thumb on the scales in a manner that ensures increased political aspects to the Board’s work going forward.

CEI and its coalition partners urge lawmakers to reject this bill.