WASHINGTON – Federal regulators have ordered officials from BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific to appear a two-day hearing this month regarding ongoing rail service problems.
The Surface Transportation Board announced on Thursday that it will hold the public hearings on April 26 and 27. The announcement comes in the wake of shipper complaints of service failures on the big four U.S. systems.
The STB said it also has invited executives from Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and Kansas City Southern to attend. And it said other railroads, shippers, rail labor, and other interested parties can participate in the hearings.
The STB has received a rising number of complaints from shippers, trade associations, rail labor, and the U.S. agriculture secretary regarding rail service failures, many of which are related to crew shortages.
Key performance metrics — including terminal dwell and average train speed — have deteriorated over the past few months, the board noted.
STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman, in announcing the hearing, placed the blame for service issues and crew shortages at the feet of the Class I railroads.
“During my time on the Board, I have raised concerns about the primacy Class I railroads have placed on lowering their operating ratios and satisfying their shareholders even at the cost of their customers,” Oberman said in a statement. “Part of that strategy has involved cutting their work force to the bare bones in order to reduce costs. Over the last six years, the Class Is collectively have reduced their work force by 29% – that is about 45,000 employees cut from the payrolls. In my view, all of this has directly contributed to where we are today – rail users experiencing serious deteriorations in rail service because, on too many parts of their networks, the railroads simply do not have a sufficient number of employees.”
The railroads have said they are having trouble retaining train crews and retaining new conductors in the tightest job market in decades, which also is affecting a broad range of industries.
Oberman added: “This hearing is not just about where we are but also about where we are going. The Board expects the railroads to explain the actions they will take to fix these issues. The Board will also consider stakeholder views on how it can use its authority — including measures to address emergencies, increase transparency, and promote reliable service — to ameliorate problems on the network.”
The public hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. on April 26-27, 2022 in the Hearing Room of the board’s headquarters and will be open for public observation. The hearing will be available for viewing on the Board’s website. Any person wishing to speak at the hearing should file with the Board a notice of intent to participate as soon as possible but no later than April 14. Submission of written testimony by hearing participants is optional but any written testimony or comments should be submitted by April 22.