Martin Oberman named to U.S. rail oversight board

President Donald Trump has nominated former Chicago alderman and Metra chairman Martin Oberman to a Democratic seat on the U.S. Surface Transportation board, the independent regulatory agency that resolves railroad rate and service disputes and reviews proposed railroad mergers.

The likelihood of the nomination was first tipped locally June 27 by the Chicago Transportation Journal.  The nomination was officially posted Thursday on the White House website.

If approved by the Senate, Oberman will fill the remainder of a five-year term expiring Dec. 31, 2023. The open Democratic seat was voluntarily vacated in 2017 by former Chairman Dan Elliott.

Oberman  emerged from a group of at least eight Democrats who were being considered for the last vacancy on the five-member regulatory board, which is the successor to the Interstate Commerce Commission. The agency also has oversight of certain trucking, intercity passenger bus and pipeline matters.

Oberman’s nomination got a strong push last month from the Rail Customer Coalition, an association of trade groups representing major freight rail users.

Oberman, 73, an attorney who built a reputation as a reformer while an alderman on Chicago’s City Council, was named to Metra’s board by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in September 2013. He was elected chairman in 2014, serving until last October, when Norm Carlson took the post.

Oberman also also serves on the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).  Previously, he served as general counsel to the Illinois Racing Board.  Oberman graduated from Yale University and earned his J.D. with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School, the White House said.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nominations of Patrick Fuchs and Michelle Schultz as STB members on April 25. Both Fuchs and Schultz are Republicans.

If all three nominations are confirmed, they will join Republican Ann Begeman, who serves as STB chair, and Democrat Deb Miller.

The Rail Customer Coalition is comprised of 29 manufacturing, agriculture, and energy industry trade groups. In a letter  to Trump, its members wrote “a fully staffed STB is critical to both the continued growth of the economy as well as furthering your regulatory reform agenda.”

The Coalition called Oberman “a well-respected attorney and a veteran of Chicago’s commuter rail system,” and urged Trump to move forward and nominate Oberman to the STB as soon as possible.

“It is imperative that we have a fully staffed STB committed to moving forward on freight rail policy reforms that will streamline overly burdensome regulatory procedures and promote greater competition in the rail sector,” the Coalition’s letter stated.

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