ACC urges passage of Reliable Rail Service Act in US Senate

Adam Yanelli


HOUSTON (ICIS)–The American Chemistry Council (ACC) announced its support for a bill introduced in the US Senate by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin that it says addresses key issues in freight rail service.

The Reliable Rail Service Act would statutorily clarify what is meant by “common carrier obligation” in the Staggers Act of 1980, which enacted major reforms on the railroad industry at a time when the sector was facing dire financial circumstances.

“While this law allowed railroads to have control of their operations and business decisions, it also required the rail carriers to serve the wider shipping public ‘on reasonable request,’ a principle known as the common carrier obligation,” according to the opening text of the act.

Along with defining common carrier obligation, the act would also establish specific criteria for the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the US government’s railroad regulator, to consider while determining whether a rail carrier has violated its obligation.

Criteria the Board would be required to consider in its assessment under the legislation include:

  • Impacts of reductions or changes in the frequency of transportation or service;
  • Availability and maintenance of reasonable local service schedules and delivery windows;
  • Impacts of reductions in employment levels;
  • Impacts of reductions in equipment; and
  • Whether the service reasonably meets the local operational and service requirements of the requestor.

The chemical industry has cited poor service from the nation’s Class 1 railroads as an impediment to chemical production and has urged regulators and elected officials to act.

The trade group Rail Customer Coalition (RCC) maintains an analysis of weekly rail service metrics that show that railroads hit their “first mile, last mile” scheduled services about 86% of the time from 20 May-26 September, and that on-time percentage averaged about 70% over the same time period.

Chris Jahn, president and CEO of the ACC said the act offers a sensible solution.

“Manufacturers and consumers can’t keep being subjected to one rail crisis after another – we need Congress to act,” Jahn said.

The Act is also supported by several members of the agriculture industry, labour organisations, energy producers and manufacturers.

The Association of American Railroads, an industry trade group whose membership includes the seven Class 1 railroads in the US, Canada and Mexico, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2021, freight railroads moved 2.2m carloads of plastics, fertilizers and other chemicals.

The highest-volume chemical carried by US railroads is ethanol.

More than half of all rail chemical carloads consist of various industrial chemicals, including soda ash, caustic soda, urea, sulfuric acid and anhydrous ammonia.

Plastic materials and synthetic resins account for close to a quarter of rail chemical carloads.

Most of the rest is agricultural chemicals.


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