STB Head Wants More Rail Competition

Class 1 Railroads got an ear full on Tuesday from U.S. Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman who suggested the carriers are shirking their obligations as common carriers due to pressure from Wall Street investors.

Speaking to the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers, Oberman called for more competition in the industry and is in agreement with an executive order issued last week by President Joseph Biden directing federal agencies to limit the dominance of large corporations.

 “There are just many, many parts of the country . . . where there’s just not real effective competition among rail carriers,” Oberman said.

In regards to railroads, the STB head said he sees a less robust freight rail system due to job cuts related to the implementation of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

Oberman also said that some commodities moved by rail have suffered due to Wall Street pressure for ever-lower operating ratios.

“While everybody applauds efficiency — and I do — I am concerned that we may well have stripped our resources down too far to keep our national rail network as healthy as it needs to be to rebuild the economy,” Oberman said.

He acknowledged that railroad did well in moving traffic as the economy rebounded from a recession last spring triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oberman and other STB members will be weighing these and other concerns in upcoming merger cases involving Canadian National acquiring Kansas City Southern, CSX buying Pan Am Railways, and a bid by Watco to buy CN’s former Wisconsin Central branch lines in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Amtrak’s relationships with its host railroads also are on the docket in a pair of cases, including involving Federal Railroad Administration mandated on-time performance standards.

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