From grain to coal to ethanol, South Dakota relies heavily on the railroad industry for shipping. That’s why U.S. Senator John Thune held a committee hearing on Commerce, Science and Transportation in Sioux Falls Thursday.
Senator Thune serves as the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee. Thursday’s hearing focused on the recently-enacted Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act, which he introduced and got passed last year.
Part of Thursday’s testimony came from those who rely on the railroads to ship their products.
“I’m going to call this hearing of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee hearing to order,” Senator John Thune said.
Thune says the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015, which he introduced, has greatly improved the relationship between the railroads and shippers.
Thursday’s hearing was to find out what’s working and what’s not and how the Surface Transportation Board can be more efficient and effective when it comes to shipping product by rail, which is crucial to South Dakotans.
“About 40% of our nation’s freight moves by rail, including 15 million tons that originates in South Dakota each year,” Thune said.
The hearing addressed several issues, including rates.
The railroad industry has made billions of dollars in improvements in recent years, which is great according to the shippers, but those costs are often passed on to farmers.
“It’s too costly for a regular shipper, let alone a farmer, it’s not reasonable to expect they could take on the likes of a railroad,” Vice President of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, Troy Knecht said.
They would also like more transparency.
“It would be more useful and effective if they could include additional details, such as delays, continuances, reasons for delays and continuances and anticipated dates for procedural orders, if these three things could be added, it would help transparency substantially,” CEO of the Missouri River Energy Services, Tom Heller said.
“To have that open transparency, to have that back and forth discussion, the grain shippers won’t feel like they’re at a disadvantage,” Knecht said.
The chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, Daniel Elliot III, also testified saying the board is proposing new rates that are intended to be streamlined and addresses the concerns he’s heard from the ag community.