Comments to STB on Proposed Rulemaking in "Reciprocal Switching for Inadequate Service"
National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) submits these comments in response to the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB or the Board) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in “Reciprocal Switching for Inadequate Service,” which focuses on providing rail customers with access to reciprocal switching as a remedy for poor service, based around three measures of carrier success or failure, namely: (1) service reliability; (2) service consistency; and, (3) adequacy of local service. NSSGA is the leading voice and advocate for the aggregates industry. NSSGA members use freight rail to supply aggregates, particularly in fast growing metropolitan areas. The Association of American Railroads (“AAR”) estimates that freight rail moved 1.1 million rail cars of stone, sand, and gravel in 2020. Despite rail carriers’ poor service, demand for freight rail to move aggregate is dramatically increasing. First, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has resulted in investment in America’s long neglected infrastructure, with such demand particularly pronounced in metropolitan areas. Second, there is insufficient supply of aggregates to meet even existing demand for the product. Third, there are limits on the ability to develop additional stone, sand, and gravel operations in high-demand metropolitan areas, which lack available land and reserves for development. Fourth, state and local land use regulations and “NIMBY” (“not in my backyard”) opposition work in tandem to increase costs and materially delay the development of new aggregate production in heavily populated areas, forcing aggregate producers to seek rural areas distant from the delivery point for future production. Finally, high population areas of particular growth are located along the country’s sunbelt, which simply lacks the necessary geology to produce quality building aggregates. Those factors combine to make producers more and more dependent on rail, particularly unit trains, to move aggregates from quarries far afield to the infrastructure projects and growing communities that need them.