Rail Abandonments:

Abandonment Activity and Shipper Views on Rail Service Loss

RCED-87-82: Published: Jul 17, 1987. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 1987.

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Kenneth M. Mead
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on railroad abandonments, focusing on: (1) the amount of mileage railroads attempted to abandon; (2) shippers' and local officials' perspectives on the abandonment process; and (3) shippers' views on the effects of rail abandonments on their operations.

GAO found that: (1) railroads requested the Interstate Commerce Commission's (ICC) permission to abandon 36,900 miles of rail lines from 1970 through 1985; (2) ICC denied permission for 6.9 percent of that mileage; (3) while many factors influenced railroads' decisions to abandon rail lines, it could not determine the primary causes of abandonments; (4) protesters in abandonment proceedings were generally unaware of the various forms of assistance that ICC could provide to them; (5) protesters and state transportation officials opposed the ICC method of considering railroad opportunity costs in abandonment decisions; (6) many shippers believed that converting to other forms of transportation increased their transportation costs; and (7) abandonments have forced some shippers of bulk commodities to relocate their rail-dependent facilities.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: ICC does not plan any change in its current procedures.

    Recommendation: Given the ICC regulatory requirement that the Office of Public Assistance (OPA) ensure that all aspects of proceedings are fully developed and that shippers be adequately informed of ICC assistance, ICC should modify its regulations to require that rail-user communities be informed of assistance available to protesters when railroads first notify ICC of their intent to abandon a branch line. Furthermore, OPA should be charged with this notification responsibility. The ICC Office of Hearings should also refer to available assistance in its Notice of Hearings if ICC decides to investigate a case set for oral hearing.

    Agency Affected: Interstate Commerce Commission


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