(Recasts; adds details, rail industry and Heitkamp statements, byline)
By Karl Plume
Oct 8 (Reuters) - The top U.S. rail regulator ruled on Wednesday that all Class 1 railroads operating in the United States must provide detailed weekly freight service reports, a decision that cited months of congestion that has hit the grain and power industries particularly hard.
Carriers must submit detailed data on average train speeds, dwell times and other service metrics on a temporary basis beginning on Oct. 22, the Surface Transportation Board said. They must also jointly submit a narrative summary of operating conditions at the Chicago gateway, a busy rail hub that is a choke point in the national network.
The ruling was a victory for the agriculture and power industries, which have argued for more transparency from rail carriers about the products they carry on their networks. Some have accused railroads of prioritizing crude shipments from shale oil fields in North Dakota over grain and coal, a charge the carriers deny.
“Today, the STB is taking needed action to hold the railroads accountable, require more transparency from the railroads on all products shipped on the rails, and make sure all products - whether grain, oil, coal or anything else - are treated equally and fairly in how they are transported,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, said.
The STB ruling came after a public hearing last month and supersedes an earlier STB decision requiring only Canadian Pacific and BNSF, the top carriers in the congested northern Plains region, to report service details.
Railroads have argued that they are taking all necessary steps to improve service, including hiring additional staff and expanding track capacity. But they have struggled to fully recover from service slowdowns caused by extremely harsh weather last winter and soaring demand for hauling crude oil by rail.
“It is unclear how the increased reporting requirements in today’s order will in any way lead to improved service,” said Edward Hamberger, president and chief executive of the Association of American Railroads.
Carriers have been voluntarily providing the STB with weekly statistics on terminal dwell times, velocity and the number of cars online since 1999, he said.
Additional reporting by Nick Carey and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio and Leslie Adler