Rail shippers aren’t looking for taxi service

The Coalition of Rail Shippers (CRS) disagrees with statements by the railways that shippers are asking for onerous regulations and oversight that would be “unprecedented in a market-based economy.”

Rail customers are simply looking for an end to the “take it or leave it” approach identified by the independent Rail Service Review Panel in their 2011 final report.

“Shippers expect to bargain commercially with the railways,” says the chairman of the CRS, Bob Ballantyne. “However, this can be difficult in a monopoly situation where railways can unilaterally impose conditions on customers. That’s why customers want the right to a comprehensive Service Level Agreement (SLA) through arbitration, and a dispute resolution process with consequences for non-performance by the railway. Railways should not fear measures that would only come into effect if normal commercial negotiations fail.”

The CRS proposals support the recommendations of the independent review panel, set up by the government after hearing years of complaints from shippers about inadequate railway service. The panel had confirmed the main problem for shippers is the imbalance of market power with many customers captive to the virtual monopoly of a single railway to get their goods to market. The government has rightly pledged to follow up on the independent review panel’s recommendations as a way to ensure effective, commercial negotiations will take place.

Claims that these modest proposals are “unprecedented interference,” is also not consistent with historical or current reality. The modest recommendations of the Rail Service Review Panel, supported by the CRS, are not nearly as intrusive as past regulations and will act as a surrogate for competition where little or none currently exists.

It’s also wrong to suggest that rail customers are asking for an elite on-demand taxi service when they’ve paid for a ride on a bus.

“Actually what shippers want is for the bus to arrive more or less on schedule and in reasonably good shape where the roof doesn’t leak and the doors and windows work,” says Ballantyne. “This is all about getting more consistent, reliable service from the railways so companies can get their products to market and compete in the international marketplace. Unreliable rail service could put many Canadian jobs and communities at risk.”

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