When piles of grain dotted the landscape with no immediacy for rail companies to move the commodity, a call to action was heeded.

In 2015 U.S. Senator John Thune sponsored a bill to make improvements to the Surface Transportation Board. Thune feels the emphasis behind the reauthorization is to allow small businesses that use the rail system the ability to cut through the bureaucracy to get a fair shake.

“It’s to create alternative ways of having rate disputes resolved service issues addressed and simplifying and making more accessible the board for smaller shippers. The frustration we feel out here is that we have all these grain elevators who feel like they can’t get in front of the right people and get a decision made without spending millions of dollars.”

Under the previous system, Thune says companies who wanted to ship their goods on the tracks had to go through quite a gauntlet to prove they were being mistreated.

“If you feel like a railroad is not treating you fairly, you have to construct an imaginary railroad and demonstrate that creating a new railroad would actually be less expensive than the rate you are being charged today. It’s called the stand-alone cost model. It costs millions of dollars and takes years to get through the process.”

As for the current status of how rail companies are treating South Dakota customers, Thune admits that Burlington Northern/Santa Fe is doing their best to service the needs of the shipping community as the main carrier.

Thune as Chair of the Commerce Committee held a field hearing to address Freight Rail Reform in Sioux Falls on August 11.

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