Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015by Representative Peter A. DeFazio
Posted on 2015-12-10
DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I thank the ranking member of the
subcommittee for yielding. He has already explained in detail what is
important about this legislation: the first reauthorization since the
creation of the agency, the streamlining of rate dispute processes, the
potential of arbitration in the future, and enlarging the Board so they
can be more facile in terms of making decisions without violating
public meetings laws. All those things are very important. I am just
going to add a little bit of what this means to me kind of stuff for
anybody who might be interested.
When I was a relatively junior Member of Congress--I think I am probably the only Member of Congress who has testified twice before the Surface Transportation Board--we had a huge crisis in the West--I think it was after the UP-SP merger--where my Christmas tree growers couldn't get railcars. So I famously made the ``How the Grinch Stole Christmas'' presentation to the Surface Transportation Board. We did, not too long thereafter, get some railcars delivered and got those trees to families all across the Western United States. That was important to an important little industry that we have in Oregon.
More importantly, I went to the Surface Transportation Board again. We had something called RailAmerica, which was an accumulation of many, many short line railroads across the country. It was bought by and being managed by one of those wonderful Wall Street hedge funds, who were driving both our rail line and other rail lines into the ground. They didn't have the slightest bit of interest in being in the rail business. They were just trying to drain what money they could out of those railroads.
One bright, sunny day, they decided to abandon the Coos Bay Railroad. It runs from the Willamette Valley all the way down to Coos Bay, Oregon, and back up to Coquille. It covers about 150 miles. It was the only rail to the coast and to a major port in Oregon, the Port of Coos Bay, North Bend.
They managed to get their equipment back, but they stranded railcars full of lumber and other goods by saying: ``Sorry, it is done. We are done.'' They didn't notify anybody. No proper procedures were filed. ``We are abandoning the line, and we are going to rip it up, and we are going to sell the rails to the Chinese for scrap.'' Well, that didn't come to pass. I got together with the then-Governor and we brought some legal clout to the table. We partnered with the Port of Coos Bay, North Bend, and said what if we can get Federal and State money and buy this railroad? The hedge fund said they weren't interested. They thought they could make more money by ripping it up, selling the right-of-way, and selling the scrap steel to China.
So I went to the Surface Transportation Board. The Surface Transportation Board made the hedge fund sell the railroad as a railroad. As decrepit as it was, it was an incredibly critical piece of infrastructure.
I took one of those horrible earmarks that we don't do around here anymore that I had gotten to improve the rail bridge over the harbor and got that converted in a technical correction to money to help purchase the railroad from this rotten hedge fund. The State partnered. The port became the operator.
Last year, the Coos Bay Rail Link got the Short Line Operator of the Year award. It is providing a tremendous economic benefit and future for the south coast of my district. And absent the regulators--we all want to carry on about how bad regulators are, but when you have abusers out there like hedge funds that buy up critical infrastructure and couldn't give a damn about them--we need people like the Surface Transportation Board to preserve critical assets for our communities.
So I am thrilled to be here today to reauthorize, for the first time, the Surface Transportation Board, streamline them, and enhance their capabilities so that in the future, other aggrieved communities or business sectors can go to the STB and get a quick judgment when they need and deserve it.