2 senators want probe of delays in rail deliveries to dealerships

The senators said railroads’ response to railcar shortages has been inadequate. Photo credit: David Patch

Two U.S. senators are asking the Surface Transportation Board -- a bipartisan body of the Department of Transportation -- to investigate railroad delays of vehicle deliveries to dealerships.

In a letter published today, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, urged Surface Transportation Board Chairman Daniel Elliott to consult with the railroads to resolve the delays.

“While rail service delays are being felt across industry sectors and across the country and need to be addressed, it is a particularly urgent matter for the automotive industry,” the senators wrote.

Levin and Portman, co-chairmen of the Senate Auto Caucus, wrote that the issue was first raised on April 17, in a letter to the Surface Transportation Board from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers -- which represents 12 automakers including General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp. and Chrysler Group. The letter asked the board to address delays of more than 100,000 vehicles worth billions of dollars.

According to the alliance, railroad transportation accounts for about 70 percent of vehicle deliveries, and nearly $5 billion is spent by automakers on railroad charges. The letter added that automakers are short about 1,000 railcars per day.

“By far, the greatest logistics problem faced by auto manufacturers is the carriers’ failure to provide a sufficient supply of empty railcars to transport finished vehicles,” the group said.

The alliance cited a slow response to extreme winter weather and weak communication from the railroads as the main reasons for the delays.

In their letter, the senators detailed additional causes for transport inefficiencies, including the bump in vehicle production as the industry recovers and the increase in crude oil shipments by railroads.

Portman and Levin added that thus far, the railroads’ response to railcar shortages has been inadequate.

“We should be doing everything we can to support the resurgence of American manufacturing which is fed in large part by the comeback of the U.S. auto industry,” the senators wrote. “This includes making sure the rail infrastructure on which America’s manufacturers rely is operating efficiently and effectively.”

The Surface Transportation Board said it has received the letter and is reviewing its contents.

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