Edward R. Hamberger, who as president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) presided over the organization's growing influence as a lobbying force on Capitol Hill and at the regulatory agencies, said today he will retire from the group in early 2019 after more than 20 years at the helm.
Hamberger, who became AAR's president and CEO in 1998, is the longest-tenured head of the 84-year-old organization. Executive search firm Korn Ferry has been retained to lead the search for his successor, AAR announced today.
Besides his time at AAR, Hamberger worked for 20 years as the assistant secretary of governmental affairs at the Department of Transportation, and as general counsel at the National Transportation Policy Study Commission. During his tenure at AAR, he has been called 85 times to testify before Congress on rail and transport policy.
The railroads have always been formidable players in Washington. The old Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which ironically was established by Congress in 1887 to curb alleged pricing abuses by the railroads, eventually evolved into an agency that was considered a supporter of the industry. A standing joke in political circles was that the ICC never met a rail merger it didn't like, until in 1987 it stunned everyone by denying the proposed combination of the Southern Pacific Transportation Co. and the Santa Fe Railway.
Under Hamberger's stewardship, the AAR successfully fended off legislative efforts to raise truck size and weight limits that have been in place since 1982. It has defeated moves in Congress to require railroads to provide competitive access to captive shippers, and has kept at bay efforts by the shipper group National Industrial Transportation League to persuade the ICC's successor agency, the Surface Transportation Board, to impose similar requirements.
The AAR supported legislation in 2008 requiring railroads to install "positive train control" on their networks to automatically control, and if necessary, stop a train to prevent an accident. Several railroads complained that the law amounted to an unfunded mandate that imposed a significant cost burden. AAR lobbied lawmakers to pass legislation extending the implementation deadline to 2018 from 2015.
Part of Hamberger's success lay in his ability to frame potentially adverse legislation or regulation as efforts to re-regulate an industry that had finally hit its economic stride after years in the wilderness. He has also engaged the American Trucking Associations (ATA) in a running battle over funding. AAR maintains that its members invest their own capital to make improvements while the trucking industry relies on fuels taxes paid by motorists and truckers alike to fund its business, as well as frequent transfers of funds from the general treasury to the Highway Trust Fund to keep the trust fund afloat.