WASHINGTON – Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) sent a letter to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) opposing the approval of a trust for the proposed merger of the Canadian National (CN) and Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroads. In his letter, DeFazio stated that approving the trust is not in the public interest and would reduce competition.
“A single holding company responsible for this traffic would likely change rail traffic patterns in the significant areas of parallel service overlap and that would reduce the rail service options these 300 customers currently enjoy,” Chair DeFazio wrote in his letter. “I am also troubled that this combination of Class I railroads serving all three nations in North America will exacerbate U.S. job losses from cross-border trade agreements that prioritize profits over people and inflict harm on worker’s rights, consumer safety, and the environment.”
In April 2021, Chair DeFazio issued a statement after Canadian Pacific (CP) and CN each made separate multi-billion dollar offers to buy KCS, warning that the bidding war that ensued for the railroad threatened to usher in a new round of consolidations in the rail sector, ultimately threatening jobs and affecting shipping in the U.S.
DeFazio’s full letter to STB can be found below and here.
July 26, 2021
Ms. Cynthia Brown
Chief, Section of Administration
Office of Proceedings
Surface Transportation Board
395 E Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20423
Re: Finance Docket No. 36514, Canadian National Railway Company, et al. – Control – Kansas City Southern Railway Company, et al.
Dear Ms. Brown:
I am writing to express opposition to the voting trust proposed by Canadian National Railway Company (CN) in its proposed merger with Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCS). I am concerned that this proposed trust is not in the public interest. The trust would reduce competition and prejudice the outcome of the Surface Transportation Board’s merger proceeding.
In its May 14, 2021, submission to this docket, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice explained how voting trusts reduce competition both in general for railroad mergers and in particular to the consideration of a voting trust for CN and KCS. In general, putting two formerly competitive businesses under a single holding company immediately reduces the parties’ incentives to engage in competition. While the Surface Transportation Board regularly allowed railroad trusts throughout the many railroad consolidations of the 1980s and 1990s, the board has made the requirements to approve a voting trust more stringent since 2001 as part of an overall reform of merger rules. Now, according to 49 CFR 1180.4(b)(4)(iv), applicants must demonstrate that trusts would be in the public interest. Approving a CN-KCS trust would signal to the rest of the rail industry that the STB is engaging in business as usual, despite the requirement to consider the public interest, and could launch a new round of mergers.
Specifically with regard to the potential for a CN-KCS trust, I am concerned that approximately 300 current customers overlap on the CN and KCS networks. A single holding company responsible for this traffic would likely change rail traffic patterns in the significant areas of parallel service overlap and that would reduce the rail service options these 300 customers currently enjoy. I am also troubled that this combination of Class I railroads serving all three nations in North America will exacerbate U.S. job losses from cross-border trade agreements that prioritize profits over people and inflict harm on worker’s rights, consumer safety, and the environment.
I trust that the Surface Transportation Board will look at the specific facts of this action and conclude that approving a trust is too much, too soon. Too much authority in one company to somehow keep two companies competing against each other that have significant service overlap and too soon because allowing the trust creates a new floor purchase price for any other potential competitive bidders for KCS railroad.
On May 27, the chair of the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) Martin J. Oberman reached out to all Class I CEOs asking them whether the carriers are prepared to reverse the workforce cuts they have made in anticipation of handling an economic rebound as the coronavirus pandemic wanes.
“I am specifically requesting that you also address whether you have any long-term plans, including your hiring plans for 2021 and 2022, to reverse any of the diminishing workforce levels which have resulted from your strategies in recent years,” Oberman said in his letter.
Rail employment data collected by the board indicate that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, that overall Class I rail employment has declined from 127,867 to 115,485, a reduction of 12,382 jobs. Train and engine personnel employment has been reduced by Class Is by nearly 5,000 workers from 51,801 in March 2020, to 46,951 in April 2021, the latest month for which STB data is available.
Oberman expressed concern that recent rail service problems reported by some shippers may relate to that broader trend of rail labor reductions over the last several years in addition to the furloughs and quarantines brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I recognize that these rail service challenges, at least to some extent, have been related to workforce reductions resulting from COVID-19 cases, quarantines, and furloughs based on the temporary decline in demand and the resultant adjustments made by railroads in nearly every facet of their businesses,” he wrote. “But I am also concerned by the extent to which these service issues may be related to or exacerbated by a broader trend of rail labor reductions that has been occurring over the past several years.”
Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), adopted by CSX under the helm of the late E. Hunter Harrison, has become an acceptable operating scheme among the largest U.S. railroads focused on reducing operating ratios by lengthening trains and emphasizing cost reductions by slashing employment, reducing the time available for inspections and mothballing equipment, as reported by The Associated Press and VICE Magazine.
From an economic perspective, Oberman said the STB has received some significant reports of flaws in the Class Is’ service model.
“Although many shippers have reported that railroads are providing consistent and dependable service, the Board has also received concerning reports from a meaningful number of rail customers of subpar performance, including missed switches, railcars delayed at intermediate yards or interchanges, extended out-of-route movements, and prolonged dwell at origin for some unit train traffic,” Oberman observed. “Additionally, we have been made aware of instances of significant congestion at various intermodal facilities, which has resulted in delayed train arrivals and disruptions to container availability.”
A review of share prices since Harrison was placed atop CSX by a hedge fund in March 2017, shows that shares for most of the Class I carriers have more than doubled since March 2017, except for Canadian National and BNSF (which is privately owned).
Conversely, STB rail employment data from April 2021, indicate that overall Class I employment has declined by nearly 34,000 jobs from 149,323 in March 2017, while train and engine personnel employment has gone down by 12,240 jobs from 59,191 in March 2017.
SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson said he was pleased to see STB Chairman Oberman and the board taking an active role in protecting rail shippers and making sure T&E crews are properly staffed.
“This is a good first step in getting people back to work and getting the rail workforce to an adequate level,” President Ferguson said. “Let’s get our members some relief so they’re able to receive adequate rest and a quality of life they deserve.”
Canadian Pacific’s acquisition of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway (CM&Q) was approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) on May 1, and will take effect June 18, 2020.
The purchase from Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure Investors LLC, officially by the wholly owned Soo Line subsidiary of CP, was originally announced Nov. 20, 2019, and with approval now gives the Class I carrier trackage and facilities running from St. Jean, Quebec, Canada, to Searsport, Maine.
In a filing with the STB, CP said it plans to upgrade CM&Q’s system to Class III standards with an investment of up to $75 million. STB members had no objections to the acquisition and dismissed comments and conditional requests by Springfield Terminal Railway Company, among others.
CM&Q owns approximately 244 miles of rail lines in Vermont and Maine and has operating rights across another 57 miles, according to the STB. The Canadian portion of CM&Q has about 237 miles of track which also will be transferred in the sale.
SMART Transportation Division represents 52 members on the CM&Q in the Transportation, Mechanical and Engineering Departments who belong to GO-049, which is represented by General Chairman Rick Lee.
A review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) permitted the acquisition to be finalized, and completion of the deal was announced Dec. 31. G&W is now a private entity and its stock is no longer traded publicly.
In the case of Canadian Pacific’s acquisition of CM&Q, the federal Surface Transportation Board still must sign off on the deal, which was announced Nov. 20, to make it official. Financial terms were finalized on Dec. 30, CP announced.
Once approved by the STB, CP’s purchase from Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure Investors LLC would give the Class I carrier trackage and facilities from St. Jean, Quebec, Canada, to Searsport, Maine.
SMART Transportation Division represents 52 members on the CM&Q in the Transportation, Mechanical and Engineering Departments who belong to GO-049, which is represented by General Chairman Rick Lee. CM&Q owns 481 miles of rail lines primarily in Quebec and Maine.
Disregarding comments by the SMART TD New York Legislative Board to the contrary, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) has granted an exemption to Brookfield Asset Management and DJP XX LLC that clears the way for their acquisition of short-line/regional railroad operator Genesee & Wyoming.
Genesee & Wyoming controls Class II and III railroads in 41 states and, if considered collectively, its holdings qualify it as a Class I carrier with more than 13,000 track miles.
The notice, published in the Federal Register Nov. 1 after a 3-0 vote by the board, concludes a postponement of the $8.4 billion acquisition put forth by the STB in late July. The acquisition, when completed, will make G&W a privately held company.
Brookfield Asset Management owns and operates assets in the utilities, transport, energy and data infrastructure across North and South America, Asia Pacific and Europe while DJP XX LLC is a subsidiary of GIC, a global investment firm that manages Singapore’s foreign reserves.
In early September, an attorney representing New York State Legislative Director Samuel J. Nasca filed reply comments asserting that the notice of exemption should be rejected or revoked because of the magnitude and nature of the transportation involved.
Nasca’s filing expressed concern regarding the role of foreign interests, including GIC, which would own 27% of equity in DJP XX and has links to the government of Singapore, and was not listed on the exemption application to the STB. He also identified Brookfield as controlling rail investments in Brazil — more than 10,000 km of rail tracks and stated that GWI controls rail carriers that are located in other countries including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom and are not subject to Board jurisdiction.
Moreover, Nasca argued, employees could face negative ramifications if the deal went through.
“A number of the GWI carriers operate in or through New York State, and are represented by SMART/TD in collective (bargaining). Those GWI carriers not so represented by SMART/TD are nevertheless important for SMART/TD employees as such carriers interchange traffic with other GWI-represented carriers, or with other carriers outside the GWI family,” his filing stated. “Accordingly, SMART/TD employees stand to be adversely affected by Brookfield management decisions revising the structure of GWI or taking actions which may divert business to other units of the Brookfield organization.”
The board disregarded the concerns expressed for workers, about foreign interests and about the scale of the acquisition as well.
“SMART/TD-NY’s comments about the magnitude and nature of the transportation at issue do not support rejection of the notice or revocation of the exemption,” the board stated in the Federal Register notice.
STB member Marty Oberman, while voting to approve the exemption, did express some reservation about the magnitude of the exemption, stating in the Federal Register filing:
“This is by far the largest and most geographically diverse collection of railroads impacting the U.S. freight network ever to be processed as a class exemption under the Board’s existing regulations,” Oberman wrote. “In my opinion, this proceeding raises significant questions regarding whether transactions of this magnitude were contemplated when the class exemption regulations were adopted, and therefore raises questions as to whether it is appropriate for such major transactions to be eligible under those regulations in the first place.”
The proposed acquisition of G&W is expected to close by the end of 2019 or early 2020 pending review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
A notice of a meeting of the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Rail Energy Transportation Advisory Committee (RETAC) appeared in the Federal Register April 30.
The meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 15, at STB headquarters, 395 E. Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20423.
The stated purpose of the meeting is to continue discussions regarding rail performance, capacity constraints, infrastructure planning and development, and the effective coordination among suppliers, carriers and users of energy resources. Items potentially on the agenda include a performance measures review, industry segment updates, a presentation on energy transportation logistics and a roundtable discussion.
RETAC was formed in 2007 to provide guidance to the STB on issues concerning the transportation of coal, ethanol and other biofuels by rail.
A number of candidates to transportation-related oversight posts in the federal government whose nominations were returned to President Donald Trump in early January have been renominated to those posts.
Thelma Drake has been renominated to be the administrator of the DOT’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Lynn Westmoreland, Joseph Gruters and Rick Dearborn are again under consideration for positions on the Amtrak board of directors.
SMART Transportation Division opposes the nomination of Westmoreland, whose voting record as a U.S. representative shows he has a long history of voting against Amtrak funding.
“As a longtime member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Westmoreland has a hostile voting record against Amtrak, which includes efforts to eliminate federal funding for Amtrak entirely. In addition, Westmoreland has been an original cosponsor of the ‘National Right-to-Work Act’ on multiple occasions, which would significantly weaken our ability to collectively bargain. For these reasons, we oppose his nomination as it would undermine the core mission of Amtrak and its employees,” we reported when his nomination was initially introduced in October 2017.
Also renominated by the president are Michelle Schultz to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), and Michael Graham and Jennifer Homendy to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Homendy is currently serving a term on the board that runs out at the end of 2019.
Two nominations also were made to highway oversight positions — Heidi King to administer the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Nicole Nason to administer the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).
These nominations will be considered by U.S. Senate subcommittees before potential advancement for consideration by the full Senate.
Six nominees to transportation-related agencies were confirmed by the U.S. Senate via unanimous consent Jan. 2, including three Railroad Retirement Board members.
Johnathan Bragg, Thomas Jayne and Erhard R. Chorle were all confirmed to the RRB.
Bragg, the labor member of the board and national vice president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), will complete a term that expires this August and then commence a five-year term. Chorle, an Illinois attorney, will serve as RRB chairman with his term expiring in August 2022, and Thomas Jayne, a senior general attorney for BNSF, will represent management for a term that expires in August 2023.
Two vacancies on the Surface Transportation Board (STB) were also filled with the confirmations of Patrick Fuchs, who was a senior staff member of the Senate Commerce Committee, reporting to Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), and Martin J. Oberman, a former chairman of Metra, as members. They each will serve five-year terms. The board now will have three of its five seats filled.
Finally, Joel Szabat was confirmed as the federal DOT’s Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs.
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) chairwoman has asked Norfolk Southern’s CEO to keep the board apprised as the carrier begins to add elements of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) to its operations, Trains Magazine reports.
The requirement of updates from NS mirrors the approach STB has taken in handling another Class I that is trying out PSR.
Union Pacific (UP) announced in early autumn that it also had begun adopting aspects of PSR as part of its “Unified Plan 2020” initiative. PSR is a strategy by the late CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison that he implemented at both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific and requires cargo to be ready when rail cars arrive for loading or risk being left behind, among other aspects. Both Canadian carriers reported financial benefits after these implementations.
When Harrison moved to CSX in early 2017 and began adding PSR to that carrier’s operations, CSX received substantial criticism from shippers amid reports of service problems as the year progressed. This drew the attention of STB and resulted in a hearing before the STB to address the carrier’s difficulties.
To avoid a repeat of those problems encountered by CSX, a letter from the STB sent in September to UP sought weekly updates on the implementation.
Surface Transportation Board (STB) Vice Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III announced he will leave the Board September 30, 2017. He informed President Donald J. Trump of his plans by letter.
Vice Chairman Elliott was appointed Chairman by President Barack Obama and joined the Board on August 13, 2009, following his Senate confirmation. He served as STB Chairman until December 31, 2014, and returned for a second term on June 26, 2015. He served as Chairman until January 25, 2017, when President Trump designated Ann D. Begeman as Acting Chairman.
“It has been an honor to serve the United States at the Surface Transportation Board. My tenure as Chairman and Vice Chairman of the agency has brought both rewards and challenges, but most of all an appreciation for the sophisticated rail transportation industry and its shippers that serve as the backbone of our nation’s economy,” Elliott said. “A lot has occurred since I first joined the Board, from new regulatory proposals to becoming independent from the Department of Transportation. But one thing has remained constant, and that is the distinguished group of professionals and good people at the agency that I have had the privilege of working with for the last eight years.
“During the six years that I have worked with Dan, I have always appreciated his genuine dedication and commitment to the Board’s work and to the transportation community—both shippers and railroads alike,” said STB Acting Chairman Begeman. “I particularly admire the respectful manner by which Dan treats everyone he meets. I will miss having Dan as a colleague, but wish him much success as he enters the next new phase of his career.”
STB Member Deb Miller said, “When I first came to the Board, the agency was in the midst of several difficult issues and as the Chairman at the time, Dan helped me quickly transition into my new role. Since then, the Board has undertaken a number of important regulatory initiatives in which he was instrumental. Dan will be missed at the Board, and I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Prior to his appointment to the STB, Elliott worked in the UTU’s legal department.
President Donald J. Trump has appointed Ann Begeman to serve as Acting Chairman of the Surface Transportation Board (STB). Begeman is currently serving a second, five-year term as a Member of the Board following her recent nomination by President Barack Obama Dec. 7, 2016, and her unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate Dec. 9, 2016. Ann first joined the Board May 2, 2011. Her current term expires Dec. 31, 2020.
“It is an honor to serve the public on the Board, and I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity to lead the agency at this time,” said Begeman. “I look forward to continuing the important mission of the STB in my new capacity as Acting Chairman, working with the new Administration, my fellow Board Members, Daniel Elliott and Deb Miller, our dedicated agency staff, and our important stakeholders. I also wish to recognize former Chairman Daniel Elliott for his service and leadership, and his sincere efforts to facilitate a smooth transition during the change in administrations.”
Prior to her 2011 appointment, Begeman held Senate staff positions on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years, playing a key role in the crafting of major transportation legislation, including the ICC Termination Act, which created the STB. She served as the Republican Staff Director for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation under the leadership of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and as the Committee’s Deputy Staff Director and Transportation Policy Advisor under the leadership of U.S. Senator John McCain. Begeman has also served as Legislative Director and Acting Chief of Staff for Senator John McCain and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Larry Pressler. She has also worked in the private sector, serving as a benefits specialist for First American Bankshares, Inc.
Begeman is a native of Humboldt, South Dakota. She earned a B.S. in business administration from the University of South Dakota.