WASHINGTON – Twelve major agricultural organizations, including the National Chicken Council, have urged the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to improve its regulatory structure to foster a more competitive rail environment. Enhancing regulatory access to the agency and problem-solving in rail markets between carriers and their customers could spur growth in both US agriculture and the rail sector, which in turn would support an “improved overall US economy and provide for more vibrant job growth in many sectors served by rail,” the organizations said in a joint statement submitted to the STB.

Their statement was submitted in response to a proceeding launched by the STB to explore the current state of rail competition and potential policy initiatives to promote additional rail-to-rail competition.

Ag group comments focused on rail-competition issues, including rates and switching charges; unreasonable business practices imposed unilaterally by carriers; contractual barriers that preclude competition; and improvements to the agency’s arbitration procedures to foster fair, objective and expeditious dispute-resolution between railroads and shippers.

Railroads have become “very profitable” based upon any reasonable business yardstick, and there are “few risks to general rail profitability if the STB chose to make some reasonable adjustments in moving toward a more competitive (rail) environment,” the groups noted. In fact, carriers in the long term likely would benefit by reasonable increases in competition, they added. The National Grain and Feed Association provided the lead on this effort.