Freight Railroads:

Highlights of GAO Report on Freight Rail Industry Performance, Competition, and Capacity

GAO-07-207R: Published: Nov 8, 2006. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 2006.

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Jayetta Z. Hecker


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Over 25 years ago, Congress transformed federal freight rail transportation policy. At that time, after almost 100 years of economic regulation, the railroad industry was in serious economic decline, with rising costs, losses, and bankruptcies. In response, Congress passed the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 and the Staggers Rail Act of 1980. Together, these pieces of legislation substantially deregulated the railroad industry. Since the passage of the Staggers Rail Act in 1980, we have issued several reports on the freight railroad industry. In October 2006, we issued our most recent report on the freight rail industry. The objectives of this report were to determine (1) the changes that have occurred in the freight railroad industry since the enactment of the Staggers Rail Act, including changes in rail rates and competition in the industry; (2) the actions STB has taken to address concerns about competition and captivity and any alternative approaches that could be considered to address remaining concerns; and (3) the projections for freight traffic demand over the next 15 to 25 years, the freight railroad industry's ability to meet that demand, and potential federal policy responses.

Among other things, this report describes the significant changes that have taken place in the railroad industry and reports that from 1985 through 2004, rates generally decreased, but nominal grain rates increased 9 percent. We also found that, on some routes, the amount of grain traveling at rates significantly above the threshold for rate relief had increased since 1985.

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