WASHINGTON: A coalition of railroad freight customers has hired Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) to refine its message and raise awareness of legislation that could inject competition into a rail industry that has witnessed significant consolidation in recent years.
The coalition, Consumers United for Rail Equity (CURE), contends its proposed amendments to the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 will lower rail costs, thereby preventing companies from closing factories or moving operations overseas. "MS&L is well-positioned to help us stop this highway robbery by railroads," said Bob Szabo, CURE's executive director.
Hired a month ago, MS&L plans to conduct an education campaign on Capitol Hill and go after the support of other rail customers who may not be aware that legislation has been introduced that would lower their costs. Because of the esoteric nature of issue, MS&L's work will focus on central points, such as the coalition's claims of aggressive pricing strategies by the railroads and the financial burden faced by freight customers.
"It's a really obscure, complicated issue, so some of it is just trying to simplify the messages, help them to talk about it in ways that are meaningful to taxpayers and consumers," said Sheila McLean, SVP and director of corporate affairs in MS&L's DC office. McLean said MS&L wants to generate media coverage in Washington and nationally.
Two pieces of legislation are pending in Congress that would provide relief to captive rail customers who are dependent on a single railroad for shipping items such as coal, grain, and chemicals. The coalition contends that the rail industry and regulators, 25 years after deregulation, are ignoring its members' concerns in favor of over-emphasis on railroad profitability.
MS&L has had success in DC representing other coalitions involved in heavily regulated sectors, such as the pharmaceutical industry. "This is a good fit for us," McLean said.