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On the Right Track for Change

Distributors are facing more rules, regulations, and pressures from the railroads than ever before. With the burden on small business growing significantly, now is the perfect time to share your concerns, get your voice heard, and help implement change.

This call to action comes from long-standing NACD member Mat Brainerd, Chairman and CEO of Brainerd Chemical Co., who sits on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Railroad-Shipper Transportation Advisory Council (RSTAC).

His quarterly meetings with the STB provide the perfect forum for candid discussions with railroads and shippers to advocate for transparency, greater clarity, and more support for distributors.

Now, he is urging NACD members to help.

“The STB needs eyes and ears on the ground, and getting this information from shippers is the only way they can hear about the real challenges we face. If we all stand quietly and don't talk about these issues, then they will assume the railroads are working fine,” he says.

NACD supports Brainerd’s efforts by sending a rail service survey to our membership each quarter. The aim is to provide a timely snapshot of the issues affecting chemical distributors, which he can then feed back to the STB. The next survey is scheduled for January 2020.

“No matter your size or scale, you have a voice and can be heard,” he says. “We want to get NACD members on board to raise their concerns about rail. I am an example of seeing a challenge and engaging. I was the smallest shipper at the table when I got involved and my issues are being addressed. This really can make a difference.”

Brainerd has already used the platform to highlight numerous challenges affecting the sector, including reduced capacities, rate increases, and wrongful demurrage. He has also questioned how best to work with local yards over improvements to last-mile service – the final leg of a shipment, as well having to accept inbound railcars within a 24-hour timeframe or face tough penalties.

His Oklahoma-based business has been involved in rail since 1965 but only started experiencing difficulties in recent years. Brainerd’s journey with the STB was borne out of frustration with the rail system in March 2017, when he had issues with the Class I railroad serving one of his facilities.

With support from NACD, and nominations from Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Brainerd was appointed to the STB’s RSTAC board the following year.

The STB is an independent federal agency appointed by the president that regulates the many facets of road, rail, and pipelines. Brainerd is now a voting board member of the RSTAC and participates in regular meetings to help provide insight and advice on regulatory, policy, and legislative matters to the STB.

“There have been lots of changes in the last few years and business has become much more difficult,” he says. “Obviously, we want the railroads to be successful and profitable, but we also want a good rail service. When they're pulling back their services so they can provide more and more profit for their shareholders, it is challenging for us.”

“Over the last 12 months we’ve really started to see some movement,” he says. “There’s a phrase that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and that’s certainly true in this circumstance.”

Anyone who wants to participate in the anonymous survey, or raise issues they’re facing with rail providers, can reach out to NACD staff.

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