The leadership ranks for federal transportation management posts in the new Biden Administration are filling up quickly this week, as Martin Oberman was named the new chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, replacing Ann Begeman.
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is an independent agency that is charged with the economic regulation of various modes of surface transportation, primarily freight rail. The STB defines its mission as resolving disputes in support of an efficient, competitive, and economically viable surface transportation network.
Before his appointment, Oberman had already been a member of the group’s board for two years, serving as vice chairman for the past year. His Senate-confirmed term runs through 2023. Before joining the board, he had served on the boards of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and the Chicago region commuter railroad Metra, as well as being an alderman on the Chicago City Council.
The news follows Pete Buttigieg’s testimony yesterday in his Senate confirmation hearing for the position of Secretary of Transportation, as well as Biden’s announcement of 40 additional DOT officials including Amit Bose as deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Meera Joshi as deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and Lucinda Lessley as deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration.
Oberman’s appointment was noted by industry groups such as the Association of American Railroads (AAR), which heralded his industry experience and noted that the STB is now considering many “important” issues. “With numerous pending proposals before the Board, railroads urge the members to ground deliberations in sound economic principles and reject measures that would undermine the industry’s ability to invest in and for the future,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said in a release. “Freight railroads look forward to continued engagement with the new Chairman about how the industry can continue to deliver for rail customers and the American public.”
The AAR is a strong proponent for a deregulated, market-based rail industry, as opposed to regulations that it says discourage private investment in new rail technology.
In another industry statement, American Chemistry Council (ACC) likewise called on the STB to update certain freight policies. “Modernizing our nation’s freight rail policies is critical to helping build back our economy and grow U.S. manufacturing. We look forward to working with Chairman Oberman and the other members of the Board to adopt much-needed reforms that will ensure large and small businesses have access to affordable and reliable service,” ACC President and CEO Chris Jahn said in a release.
The ACC also thanked outgoing STB Chair Begeman for her leadership on “tackling service issues and excessive charges related to the adoption of Precision Scheduled Railroading.” That comment tracked with a statement from Oberman himself, who noted that Begeman had led the STB through challenges including “service challenges and weather crises, demurrage issues, and the ongoing pandemic, all while most of the Class I railroads have undertaken major changes to their operating plans.”
The practice of precision scheduled railroading (PSR) seeks to improve predictable delivery schedules by prioritizing on-time departures from each station. The approach can improve efficiency, but it also creates late fees or delayed pickups for shippers who don’t deliver their loads in time.