President Trump has named Ann D. Begeman, who had been interim chairman of the Surface Transportation Board (STB), to be permanent chairman, the White House said Monday.
Begeman, 53, joined the STB in 2011. She is serving her second and final term, which expires Dec. 31, 2020, but which allows for a 12-month extension pending Senate confirmation of a successor. STB members are limited to two five-year terms by statute.
Earlier this month, Trump named Patrick J. Fuchs, currently a senior staff member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Michelle A. Schultz, associate general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), to two of the positions on the five-member board. They await Senate confirmation.
Begeman, Fuchs, and Schultz are Republicans. The fourth member, Vice Chairman Deb Miller, is a Democrat. A Democrat must fill the fifth vacancy because, by law, no more than three members can be affiliated with either political party.
The STB's role is to oversee what remains of rail regulation. At the top of the near-term agenda are worries about the worsening performance of the nation's railroads in recent months. Last Friday, the agency sent letters to all seven Class I railroads, which include the U.S. operations of Canadian National Inc. and Canadian Pacific Railway, requesting that each carrier submit what are known as "service outlooks" for the near-term period and for the rest of the year.
The STB said an analysis of weekly data points has left it "increasingly concerned about the overall state of rail service." Average train speeds have declined noticeably, while average terminal dwell times have risen, the agency said. The grain and feed and auto manufacturing industries, both populated with heavy users of rail services, have lodged complaints about deteriorating service levels, the board noted.
The STB asked the railroads to address issues relating to locomotive availability, capacity constraints, employee resources, and local service performance at specific yards or locations where performance has recently trended below historical norms. The carriers have also been asked to project service demand for the balance of the year, how they plan to meet it, and ways they will pro-actively communicate with shippers about service issues.