The STB in February proposed to reduce its maximum filing fees to $350 — the same fee level charged for bringing complaints before a federal district court. The NGFA noted that several current STB filing fees, such as those applying to complaints associated with alleged unreasonable freight rates and competitive access issues, already are at or less than $350. But the maximum charge for bringing an unreasonable practice complaint can reach $20,600.
“The large disparity in the fee structure between the relatively low fees for most complaints and the petition for declaratory orders (compared to) the existing $20,600 fee for all other formal complaints represents, as the (STB) states, ‘a gap that is not good public policy’…, and likely has a chilling effect on shippers and other entities seeking to bring a complaint to the (agency),” the NGFA said.
The NGFA also referenced the fact that unresolved informal complaints brought before the STB’s Rail Consumer and Public Assistance service have not resulted in the filing of formal complaints, which may be attributable in part to the cost of bringing such cases.
The NGFA pointed to the reasonable, cost–effective fees charged as part of its more-than-10-year-old Rail Arbitration System, which provides a mechanism to resolve certain types of disputes between rail carriers and rail users, and widely is viewed by both segments as successful and workable.
“Most (NGFA rail arbitration) cases are settled between the parties shortly after the claim is filed, and countless other potential claims reportedly are settled without the need for a formal complaint, because the parties understand that an accessible adjudicatory process is available,” the NGFA said. “Based upon its own experience, the NGFA believes that simply having access to a cost-effective process (at the STB) will itself enhance the resolution of disputes.”