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Surface Transportation Board sends railway companies back to the drawing board on service recovery plans

The Surface Transportation Board on Monday told four major railroads that their plans for improving shipping delays were inadequate and ordered the companies to provide key information the agency demanded in May. 

“The plans simply failed to instill confidence that the carriers have a serious approach to fixing a problem caused by their own lack of preparedness to respond to external shocks and fluctuations in demand, including especially short-sighted management of labor forces and other resources,” STB Chairman Martin Oberman said in a board statement. 

The U.S. freight rail network has been fraught with disruptions for several months, making it difficult for farmers to get agricultural products to their customers on time. Elevators are sitting full, livestock operators aren’t able to access the grain they need and agricultural shippers are paying between 50% and 100% to move their goods, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jewell Bronaugh said in April at an emergency STB meeting. 

A May 6 order required BNSF Railway Company, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway and Union Pacific Railroad to submit service recovery plans and report biweekly on their progress in making improvements. The submitted plans, STB said, left out key information and two of the companies — Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern Railway — even refused to provide the mandated six-month targets for achieving their performance goals. 

The new order requires all Class 1 rail carriers to provide six months worth of performance metrics and employment data. Each recovery plan is also required to include a “time series of all key service performance indicators for the past 36 months and, for each indicator, a target that the carrier expects to hit at the end of the six-month reporting period.”

The four companies will need to file bi-weekly service progress reports and participate in conference calls with STB staff to give updated information on their progress fulfilling the recovery plans.

“I had expected a better response from the carriers to the board’s previous order, and now with more explicit instructions, which should not have been needed, there will be no excuse for continued lack of compliance,” Oberman said.

CSX Transportation, in a statement to Agri-Pulse, said it is reviewing the order and will provide a response directly to the Board. The other three companies did not offer a response before publication time. 

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