Freight Railroads Call For Regulatory Freeze, Reform

The freight railroad industry is calling on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to suspend all major rulemaking efforts until the new administration is in place and has appointed and confirmed a full five-person board.

Such a pause is in line with Donald Trump's call for a temporary moratorium on all new regulation and a full review of both proposed and existing rules, as well as the process in which rules are made.

The call for a freeze is also consistent with the same principles that led Henry Waxman and John Rockefeller, then-leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, respectively, to call upon the Federal Communications Commission in 2008 to halt any complex and controversial items until the Obama administration took office.

This is most certainly as a result of Election Day results. But it is also in light of good common sense and the desire to help spur job creation - not hobble it - as would be the result if recent proposals at the STB were to be enacted.

It is especially true in the case of forced access, a mandate for railroads to use their private infrastructure and equipment for the benefit of competitors. This is a radical change in economic regulation.

The STB is the independent adjudicatory and economic-regulatory agency "charged by Congress with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers," according to its mission statement.

In reality, the agency has gone way off sides as it ponders far-reaching changes to the freight rail industry. The concern that the industry has is that the agency will attempt to ram through disastrous regulations at the sunset of the Obama administration.

But against a backdrop of a poorly performing economy and tepid economic growth, now is not the time for midnight regulations, let alone unfounded and unnecessary rules that sit upon flimsy justification.

With the new leadership at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and a new Congress at the other, a fully-staffed STB and administration have a real opportunity to put a stamp on the board and ensure that policies are sound and rooted in objective data.

The STB next year has the opportunity to protect a true free market and nurture the nation's economy in which privately owned and maintained freight railroads prosper and help other industries succeed.

Once equipped with five board members, the agency can reject the oxymoronic notion that we can induce competition by saddling industry under the crushing weight of more regulations.

This call for regulatory reason aligns directly with the philosophy of the incoming administration. As part of its emerging policy goals, the Trump transition team is promising dramatic reform to regulations.

We broadly support this idea because the current system clearly is not working.

New rules should be empirically driven, supported by cost-benefit analysis and geared towards today's innovation economy. Too often government makes rules in a vacuum and without an eye toward the future.

An assessment of the cumulative impact of proposed regulation on industry must be part of every rulemaking. Rules can become quickly outdated when reacting to the issue of the day, which can sometimes compel overreaction. We must make the process more transparent and collaborative, and we must reduce the estimated $2 trillion compliance cost and hold decision makers accountable.

But for now, it is time for a time out at the STB. Time for regulatory reason.