The Renewable Fuels Association supports regulatory changes proposed by the Surface Transportation Board to deal with rail service emergencies but says more work is needed to resolve the current failures of the system, which have had costly impacts on the U.S. ethanol industry and its customers. RFA submitted comments this week to STB regarding Revisions to Regulations for Expedited Relief for Service Emergencies.
“The U.S. railway system is clearly experiencing significant challenges, and recent service disruptions have had devastating effects on the ethanol industry,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper, noting that roughly 70% of the ethanol produced in the United States is shipped by rail. “These disruptions are hitting our nation’s ethanol producers and their customers hard, since railroads typically carry more than 370,000 carloads of ethanol each year. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that the railroads and STB take action to ensure the robust supply of lower-cost American-made ethanol safely and efficiently reaches fuel consumers in a timely manner.”
RFA expressed support for STB’s proposal to modify petition requirements to make it easier for affected parties to seek relief and minimize logistical disruptions, but also noted that the modified timeline is still too long.
In its review of current rail service deficiencies, RFA noted that average terminal dwell times remain 32% above pre-pandemic times, and the average ethanol unit train dwell time is up 64%, compared to other unit trains at 25%. The average train speed for ethanol unit trains has decreased 14% since the start of 2020, and the rail industry shed 41,000 jobs between November 2018 and January 2022—more than one-fifth of industry employment.
RFA’s comments also urge STB to “ensure that appropriate attention is being paid to the disproportionate deterioration of service for manifest trains, which are utilized by many of our member companies to ship both ethanol and co-products.” For some railroads, the average number of manifest trains holding per day is more than 20 times greater than the number of unit trains holding.