Regarding rate relief, determining reasonable rates is the most consequentially task of the board, Fuchs says, and the board is working to find alternatives to the current standard standalone cost test. The board expects the filing of a staff report in the next two or three months, which the agency expects to release without edits. That report is expected to kick off the public comment period for the rule-making process. “We hope for robust public participation,” Fuchs says. This is, he says, the No. 1 priority for the agency at this time.
Another hot topic is Precision Scheduled Railroading. “Certainly, the board is aware of recent operating and management changes,” Fuchs says. “We’ve been engaged with all those railroads making the transition.” That transition has led to the reduction of intermodal lanes, elimination of hump yards, and other changes the board is watching. The agency has heard “many different stories across many different shippers … Some of it is positive. Some of it isn’t so positive.” The board is in “oversight mode,” Fuchs says, but it needs more observations from short lines. “Our doors are open; call us any time.”
The board is also ready to flex its regulatory muscles regarding federal preemption of railroad regulation. “Congress gave the board exclusive jurisdiction over rail transportation … for good reason,” Fuchs says. Local intervention in rail is a barrier to efficient transportation, he notes, and the board may take a “more assertive role” in the future to protect the rail network from local regulation.
“I have a really strong appreciation for the great value that short line and regional railroads provide to the transportation network,” Fuchs said in closing.