By Randy Gordon, President and CEO
Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Ann Begeman on May 7 wrote to each of the presidents and chief executive officers of the Class I railroads directing that they continue to submit quarterly reports on revenues generated by demurrage and accessorial charges for the remainder of 2020.
Originally, Begeman had requested in 2018 that such quarterly reports be submitted on a quarterly basis until the end of 2019. In her most recent directive, she said continued reporting “is important to the (STB) as it works to monitor the fluidity of the rail network.”
In her one-page letter, Begeman commended the rail carriers and their “thousands of hard-working and dedicated employees” for providing service that has “buttressed critical supply chains that are vital to public health and welfare” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Begeman noted that as the nation “cautiously transitions from COVID-19 containment to recovery,” many rail-served industries – large and small alike – will begin to scale up to full production. In preparation, she asked each of the Class I carriers to provide information to the STB on the “ready availability of train crew, yard and maintenance employees (both new hires and return of furloughed workers and equipment resources (including stored locomotives and railcars)” that would be available to respond to a surge in demand for rail service from various industry sectors. Begeman also said she was “interested in learning about measures” the railroads are taking “to enhance communications with rail shippers and other stakeholders with respect to service performance and operating conditions.”
STB Proposing to Require Railroads to Provide Additional Information to Customers on Demurrage Invoices: In a separate but related development, the STB is seeking comments by June 4 on a supplemental proposed rule (EP 759) issued on April 30 that would require Class I railroads to provide additional information on demurrage invoices sent to rail customers to improve rail users’ ability to verify the accuracy of such charges. Erroneous and inflated railroad bills for demurrage have been a persistent and recurring problem for rail customers, which spend extraordinary amounts of time and effort in investigating and challenging such charges.
Specifically, the STB is proposing to require Class I railroads to provide the following additional information on demurrage invoices:
- the date range (i.e., billing cycle) covered by the invoice;
- the original estimated date and time of arrival of each car (as established by the invoicing carrier), as well as the date and time each car was received at interchange (if applicable), either on or with each invoice, or, alternatively, upon reasonable request from the invoiced party; and
- the date and time of each car ordered (if applicable).
The STB also is requesting comments on whether Class I railroads should be required to submit demurrage invoice information in a machine-readable format instead of most carriers’ current practice of sending such information in paper or PDF files. It also is seeking input on whether it should retain its proposed rule’s requirement that Class I carriers take “appropriate action” to verify the accuracy of demurrage charges before sending invoices to their customers, and what such actions should include.
NGFA’s Rail Shipper/Receiver Committee is developing comments that will be submitted to the agency in response to this proceeding.