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SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD

Uniform Rail Costing System (URCS)

Three Phases of URCS

The Uniform Rail Costing System (URCS), is the Surface Transportation Board (Board’s) general purpose costing system. This system estimates unit costs and total variable costs for U.S. Class I railroads. The Board publishes URCS for eastern- and western-United States regional costs based on a compilation of U.S. Class I data.

URCS is divided into three phases, or steps.

  • Phase I:  During this phase, the Board’s predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission, developed regression coefficients needed to calculate cost variabilities.  This phase was only run during URCS’s original development in the 1980s.
  • Phase II:  During this phase, the Board calculates system average variable unit costs from R-1 and other data filed by the railroads.  It is run annually using railroad information specific to that year.  (The R-1 reports are available here.)
  • Phase III:  During this phase, the Board applies unit costs from Phase II to calculate the total variable costs of railroad shipments.  It is run annually to cost the STB’s Waybill Sample.  URCS is also used by parties to submit cost evidence before the Board.

Origins of URCS

URCS evolved from the Interstate Commerce Commission’s (ICC) general purpose costing system – Rail Form A (RFA), which was developed by the ICC in 1938.  Congress called for revision to RFA in the 1970s.  URCS was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s and reviewed by the Railroad Accounting Principles Board (RAPB).  URCS was adopted by the ICC in 1989 in Ex Parte No. 431 as the ICC’s general purpose costing system.  The ICC Termination Act of 1995 retained the provision that the market dominance determination be based on URCS costs.  See 49 U.S.C. § 10707(d)(1)(B).

Uses of URCS

URCS is used by the Board for a variety of statutory and non-statutory functions.  URCS is statutorily required for making the jurisdictional determination in railroad maximum rate reasonableness proceedings.  It also has a prominent role in determining whether a rate is reasonable and what relief a rail shipper should receive.  URCS is also used to develop variable costs for making cost determinations in abandonment proceedings; to provide the railroad industry and shipper community with a standardized costing model; to cost the Board’s Carload Waybill Sample; and to provide interested parties with basic cost information.

URCS questions should be directed to URCS@stb.gov.

 Technical Updates to URCS

In 2012, the Board made available a new version of its URCS Phase III Railroad Cost Program.  The updated 2012 version, which was based on user feedback and analysis by the Board, resulted in technical improvements that enhanced the program’s functionality and made URCS easier to use.  Refinements to the Railroad Cost Program in 2012 included:

  • The model process flow improved the overall stability of the program and allowed users to switch between the railroad cost program and the batch cost program without having to exit the program.
  • The batch cost program added a row of headers indicating the contents of each column as the first line of the batch cost program output; improved error reporting of the batch control file; and improved error reporting if a movement could not be costed.
  • The output report corrected references to the URCS worktables; added page numbers; allows the user to export a comma separated value (CSV) version of the output report; and allows the user to select a printer for where to send the output report (including the option to print selected pages).

The 2012 version of the URCS Phase III Railroad Cost Program included a user manual reflecting the technical improvements.  The 2012 version remains available for download from the STB website (see below).

In 2015, the Board made available a new spreadsheet version of its URCS Phase II worktables for 2013.  These new spreadsheets replicate the 434-page PDF reports historically posted on the STB website.  These spreadsheets are the result of a significant recoding of the legacy computer programs that created the URCS Phase II worktables.  The spreadsheets provide the source of every calculation, thus making each calculation more transparent.  The spreadsheets also allow users to change inputs and instantaneously observe the impact of such changes on resulting unit costs.  In that way, the spreadsheets serve as an interactive Phase II model.  The Board has transitioned its Phase II processing from its legacy programs to these new spreadsheets.

In 2021, the Board transitioned to using a MS Excel version of its URCS Phase III Railroad Cost Program for costing the 2020 waybill sample.  This 2021 version is a re-coding of the legacy 2012 Railroad Cost Program that has previously been available for download from the STB website.  Like the 2015 spreadsheet version of the URCS Phase II worktables, the 2021 workbook provides the source of every calculation.  Improvements to the 2021 URCS Phase III Railroad Cost Program include:

  • The 2021 MS Excel workbook version of the URCS Phase III Railroad Cost Program can simply be downloaded and opened, and no longer needs to be “installed” on a user’s computer.  Unit costs from previous years are contained in the workbook, so the Railroad Unit Cost data no longer need to be downloaded separately.  Each year, a new version of the Railroad Cost Program will be released containing the latest Phase II unit costs.
  • The 2021 workbook version makes certain technical corrections related to the costing of intermodal shipments.

The 2021 workbook version corrects certain technical errors found in the existing waybill costing programs.  Those errors are described in this link.

This 2021 version of the URCS Phase III Railroad Cost Program includes an updated user manual. The workbook also contains an “Instructions” worksheet, as well as pop-up messages that appear when input fields are selected. The new 2021 MS Excel version is available for download from the STB website (see below).

URCS Programs and Documentation

The most recent URCS Phase III Railroad Cost Program, the URCS worktables, URCS substitutions, and URCS update data are available below.

CURRENT

LEGACY

URCS Data for Prior Years