THE HOUSE gets another chance today to do what it should have done weeks ago: pass a railroad deregulation bill. The railroad industry is in terrible financial shape, and the only foreseeable solution to its problems -- other than huge federal subsidies -- lies in loosening some of the economic restrictions the government has put on it.
Since the House six weeks ago rejected the version of deregulation sought by the Commerce Committee, the sponsors of this bill have agreed to accept an amendment that weakens the bill substantially. This amendment would permit the Interstate Commerce Commission to keep jurisdiction over more proposed rate increases affecting "captive" shippers -- many of them electric utilities -- than the committee's version would have allowed.It will protect the utilities, which have led the opposition to this bill from the beginning, against unreasonable increases in the freight rates for hauling coal.
Despite this weakening amendment, the rail bill is still a good start on getting rid of unnecessary government interference with the industry. Congress has already eased restrictions on the other principal forms of transportation -- airlines and trucks. It must either do the same now for the railroads and let them try to get more revenue from shippers or it must face up to the likelihood it will soon have to choose between subsidizing the railroads or letting them go bankrupt.