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Cornerstone of Modern, Resilient Rail Industry laid 40 years ago

AAR celebrates the anniversary of Landmark Staggers Act that sparked a rail renaissance

The freight rail industry marked the 40th  anniversary of the enactment of the Staggers Rail Act today by engaging the public and policymakers on its success and reinforcing the need for balanced regulation in the future. As the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and challenging economic conditions, freight railroads stressed that partial deregulation is the primary driving force enabling the industry to continue to deliver high levels of service and safety across the country.

Ian Jefferies headshot

Ian Jefferies

“Today’s nimble, resilient rail network is built upon the rock-solid foundation laid 40 years ago with the signing of the Staggers Act,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “In the face of a dynamic competitive landscape, the smart regulatory framework, which predominately relies on market forces to govern rail rates, still empowers railroads to invest, innovate and deliver for customers and communities every day. Staggers has stood the test of time and remains just as relevant and essential in 2020 as it was in 1980.”

Through an online #Staggers40 campaign, a new digital hub, select event participation, and outreach to policymakers, the AAR is celebrating the milestone while emphasizing to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) and Congress the critical nature of the landmark legislation that helped make the U.S. freight rail network one of the safest, most efficient and cost-effective transportation networks in the world.

Railroads were today joined in this effort by a broad, bipartisan coalition of more than 1,000 individuals writing to the STB and Congress, affirming why this groundbreaking regulatory framework has stood the test of time and remains foundational to the industry and the broader economy’s future success. The letter is signed by seven past U.S. Transportation Secretaries, former Members of Congress, prior administration officials, and experts from the nation’s most prominent think tanks, as well as state and local officials representing communities across the nation.

On October 14, 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter signed into law the legislation named for the late Rep. Harley Staggers of West Virginia that ushered in a new era of railroading. By unwinding a strangling web of overburdensome regulations and replacing it with the market-based system that remains in place today, railroads now operate like most other businesses in terms of managing their assets and pricing their services. Through empowering railroads, rail customers have also benefited with increased network productivity and reductions in shipper rail rates – now 43 percent lower than in 1981 when adjusted for inflation. This balanced regulatory system has been broadly hailed as one of the most successful deregulatory efforts by both Republicans and Democrats.

With an eye to the future, railroads’ ability to advance safety, modernize and compete continues to hinge upon the thoughtful framework established by the Staggers Act. Private investment, as well as the benefits that rail provides to the public – including inherent environmental efficiencies – rest in no small way upon the current framework. Since 1980, freight railroads have invested a combined $710 billion back into their operations, including some $25 billion annually in recent years. These private investments fuel economic growth, help meet growing freight demands, and connect American businesses and communities to markets spanning the globe at no cost to taxpayers.