Group Letter Featuring Signatories from 46 States Calls on Policymakers to Preserve Regulatory Balance for Freight Railroads and Customers

Washington, D.C. — More than 1000 local and national leaders commemorated the 40th anniversary of the landmark Staggers Rail Act today in a letter sent to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) and Congress celebrating four decades of progress achieved by balanced rail regulation and warning against wholesale changes in the future.

“Any action inhibiting freight rail investment would threaten economic development and quality of life in our communities, precipitate job losses in the rail supply and contracting sectors, and undercut safety, efficiency and productivity across the rail network, affecting all railroads, small and large,” the letter states.

The national bipartisan coalition, including more than 320 mayors, commissioners, and local government representatives; over 230 state legislators; more than 200 business leaders, ports and economic development organizations; nearly 90 think tanks and policy groups; nearly 150 rail supply companies and associations; and 25 former administration officials and Congressional leaders, including seven former U.S. Secretaries of Transportation, urged Washington policymakers to consider the industry-saving history of the Staggers Act when approaching economic rail regulation in the future.

“Forty years ago the far-sighted reforms of the Staggers Act released freight railroads from the grip of federal overregulation and enabled them to invest, expand and innovate to the ongoing benefit of communities and businesses from coast to coast,” said Russ McGurk, president of GoRail, the national grassroots advocacy organization that spearheaded the letter.

“I am grateful to the broad and diverse group of leaders who have joined in reinforcing the need to preserve the core principles and balanced approach of this visionary legislation.”

Signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 14, 1980 and named for the late Rep. Harley Staggers of West Virginia, the Staggers Act instilled a predominately market-based system still in place today that enables railroads to work with customers to set rates and manage private functions. With an important backstop of government oversight, this system has enabled a freight rail renaissance in the U.S.—including record safety gains, a more than 40 percent reduction in rail rates for shippers and the doubling of network productivity.

“The Staggers Act remains the foundation for resilient railroads to operate safely, serve growing freight demand and provide countless public benefits,” said Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “The Staggers framework remains one of the most successful, bipartisan policy achievements and today empowers railroads and their customers to grow while helping U.S. policymakers in their quest to spur infrastructure investment and cut carbon emissions. The longevity of the Staggers Act framework is a testament to its need for the future.”

As railroads look to the future of freight, their ability to innovate and continue meeting demand for customers will hinge on preserving the policy balance cemented by Staggers, according to the letter. Freight railroads have collectively spent more than $710 billion to maintain, build and grow their networks since 1980. These investments directly fuel economic growth at the local level and do so without taxpayer support.

Communities, businesses and employees across the country depend on a healthy freight rail network, the letter concludes, calling on the STB to preserve the core tenets of Staggers now and into the future.