Trying To Save Retailers’ Rail Access

The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) provided testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee regarding rail transportation access for small businesses and family farmers last week.

ARA Board Chairman Dan Weber, vice president of agronomy for Ceres Solutions, LLP, testified stating that rail services play a critical role in distributing necessary crop inputs and is a reasonable, cost-effective transport alternative.

"The railroad’s consolidation since the 1980s has resulted in abandoned service to smaller communities and increased costs for many agricultural retailers," said Weber. "ARA members support a railroad system that is financially sound, but it is important to have an infrastructure in place that allows for competition and has proper government oversight.

"America’s agricultural industry is currently faced with high fuel, fertilizer, and transportation costs. As a result, if the railroads are left to operate in its present state, the agricultural industry’s productivity will be stalled and consumers will continue to be affected by increased food and energy costs. The railroad industry’s efforts to arbitrarily change tariffs, imposing excessive fuel surcharges, favoring unit trains, and creating cost barriers will stop shipments of critical agricultural fertilizer products, such as anhydrous ammonia."

Weber concluded his testimony with six ARA recommendations to Congress:

  • Reform the Surface Transportation Board (STB),
  • Initiate a USDA rail study.
  • Establish increased transparency on railroad shipping rates and other fees.
  • Evaluate the new rail car design to ensure it is effective and does not adversely impact deliveries to agricultural retail operations and rural communities.
  • Maintain the common carrier obligation.
  • Congress should review H.R. 1650 that supports the removal of railroads’ antitrust exemption and gives STB six months to bring railroad into compliance.

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