After Some Tough Battles Against Each Other in Recent Years, Truck and Rail Carriers, Shippers Uniting to Change Regulatory Environment in Washington


Carriers See Chance to Roll Back Some Rules, Require More Evidence to Push New Regulations Through

Jan. 19, 2017

Outsiders most likely think of various transportation interests – carriers across various modes, shippers – as being reasonably aligned in their approach to Washington and rules and regulations impacting the movement of freight.

In general that would be wrong. Regulations that negatively impact trucking, for example, are often supported by rail interests, and vice versa. Shipper and carrier interests of course are frequently not aligned.

Supply Chain Digest Says…

The FMCSA made costly new rules on hours of service even as deaths from trucking accidents was falling sharply and the evidence of the benefits was thin indeed.

Perhaps there is no better example of those divides than the multi-year battles to change rules to allow heavier and/or longer trucks on federal highways. Without going through the details relative to the proposed changes, shipper groups such as NASSTRAC and the Coalition for Transportation Productivity were very much behind the proposals, as was the American Trucking Associations, a group which represents truckers.

But rail interests funded efforts to convince Congress not to approve the changes, including the brilliant ploy of bringing country sheriffs from across the country to Washington to meet with legislators and express their opposition to the changes due to safety concerns, among other lobbying moves.

The tactics worked. Congress has never approved changes for heavier or longer trucks.

But then fractures were exposed even on the trucking side of the ledger. Then ATA CEO Bill Graves noted in an interview with SCDigest early last year that there were divisions within trucker ranks as whether to support the changes, with carriers concerned in the end they would wind up hauling more freight for the same price.

The split with shippers on these issues came into sharp relief in January, when the Truckload Carriers Association reversed its stance and came out against both changes.

That was then. This is now.

With the Trump administration poise to take over Washington this week, shippers and especially carriers are hoping for a new, more freight friendly approach to regulations after eight tough years under Obama.

The efforts seem to follow two primary tracks. One, the freight industry is looking to roll back regulatory changes such as recent hours of service rules in trucking, looming safety-equipment requirements for trains, and more.

But perhaps even more consequential, carriers across modes are looking to alter the way regulations on the industry are developed in Washington – after eight years in which carriers feel they had little opportunity to work with regulators to craft sensible rules.

“We want to see industry included in developing regulations,” Chris Spear, chief executive of the ATA, said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We’d hope to see a lot more collaboration than we’ve seen in the past few years.”

Hours of service rules for truck drivers serves as an example of where there was sharp disagreement between the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and carrier interests.

The requirement that drivers rest during a set number of overnight periods put in place a few years ago ignored the preferences of truck drivers, and made highways less safe by putting more trucks on roads when they are crowded, trucking groups say. The ATA said the rule was made without proof that it would make highways safer. 

Congress actually rescinded that aspect of the new HOS rules late last year.

Ed Hamberger, CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), said transportation companies want more data collected to verify that “the benefits claimed are the direct result of the regulation itself,” an issue that has been hotly debated in many cases, especially in areas related to rules said to improve safety.

For example, the AAR says that a proposed Federal Railroad Administration rule barring trains from operating with only one engineer, rather than the usual two-person crews, was written without evidence that two-person crews are safer.

Carrier groups are also hopeful that Elaine Chao, nominated by Trump for Secretary of Transportation, will be more attuned to balance interests, given her past experience relative to freight transportation as chairman of the Maritime Administration and as a deputy Transportation secretary in earlier GOP administrations.

SCDigest’s Take: The battles between truckers and rail roads is hardly over, but both sides do obviously see an opening after a change in administrations, with the FMCSA especially seemingly out to get trucking. A balance is needed – carriers aren’t always right, of course – but for example the FMCSA made costly new rules on hours of service even as deaths from trucking accidents was falling sharply and the evidence of the benefits was thin indeed.


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