Metra and Amtrak are fighting over the rent, but what about the service?
Amtrak, which owns Union Station, has declared an impasse in the yearlong negotiations over how much the commuter rail agency should pay to use the facility.
That amount was $9.66 million in FY 2018. Reportedly, Amtrak wants to increase that by several million dollars, but Metra wants to cut it to less than $7 million a year.
Amtrak contends Metra should be paying more because its use of Union Station has increased significantly over the years. Amtrak also says there are “significant gaps in other cost categories, including operating expenses, policing, liability and overall capital investment.”
As a result, Amtrak has asked the federal Surface Transportation Board, the agency that regulates U.S. railroads, to step in and resolve the dispute. Metra agrees. Although the current lease will expire Monday, both sides say no disruption of service or other operational changes will occur at the station.
That’s good news for the 109,520 passengers who ride the six Metra lines, including the BNSF, that use the station.
But money isn’t everything. Metra ought to be demanding that Amtrak do a better job of ensuring that commuters get better service. That means reducing the signal and switch problems that frequently cause delays for trains at Union Station. Or ensuring no more human screwups like the one that occurred Feb. 28 when an Amtrak…
Former Metra chairman and Chicago alderman Martin Oberman has been confirmed as a member of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the independent regulatory agency that oversees the nation’s freight railroad industry.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Oberman’s nomination late Wednesday along with that of Patrick Fuchs, a senior staff member for the Senate Commerce Committee.
On Thursday, Oberman told the Chicago Transportation Journal that he expected it to be an interesting, even “momentous” time for the board. There are a number of pending issues that could have a significant impact on the railroad industry, he said.
The STB is the independent federal regulatory body responsible for economic oversight of the freight rail system. Run by a five-member bipartisan board serving five-year terms, the STB has regulatory jurisdiction over railroad rates, mergers, service, line acquisitions, new rail-line construction, line abandonment, and other rail issues.
“I think the board will tackle some of those issues to see if changes should be made,” Oberman said, acknowledging that he was eager to learn more about the industry.
“After 50 years of practicing law, I like to think I’m still a fast learner,” he said. “I’ve been studying a great deal since (being nominated last year). I still have quite a bit of a learning curve, but I look at this assignment the same way as taking on complex litigation. You have to learn the law pretty quickly.”
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…
Martin Oberman, the former Metra chairman and Chicago alderman, is being highly touted to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the regulatory agency which has broad oversight of railroads.
The Rail Customer Coalition, an association of trade groups representing major freight rail users, is strongly urging that President Trump nominate Oberman to fill the final post on the five-member STB, a seat which must be filled by a Democrat.
Oberman’s name emerged from a list of at least eight Democrats who were being considered for the nomination.
Oberman, 73, an attorney who built a reputation as a reformer while 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 over the post.
Reached Wednesday by phone — typically as he bicycled home from his law office — Oberman declined to comment on the possible nomination.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the nominations of two Republicans, Patrick Fuchs and Michelle Schultz, as STB members on April 25.
All the nominations must be confirmed by the full Senate.
The Rail Customer Coalition is comprised of 29 manufacturing, agriculture and energy industry trade groups. In a letter Tuesday to Trump, it said “a fully staffed STB is critical to both the continued growth of the economy as well as furthering…
(My story from TRAINS magazine News Wire) Former Metra Chairman Martin Oberman, who was credited with helping restore public confidence in Chicago’s commuter rail agency after scandal and controversy, departed the board of directors Wednesday.
Oberman, 72, 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 Norman Carlson took the post.
Oberman tells Trains News Wire that he and Emanuel recently discussed his tenure and decided it was time to leave the board.
“He wanted me to focus on other areas,” Oberman says. “Nothing’s been spelled out yet.”
Metra has an 11-member board of directors appointed by the chairmen of the six Northeastern Illinois county boards, Cook County commissioners, and Chicago’s mayor.
Oberman said two key accomplishments that occurred during his term were helping to professionalize Metra and remove political patronage, and putting the agency on a more secure financial footing.
He refused to take personal credit.
“One person can’t do it,” Oberman says. “Whatever I was able to do required the support of the board and working with the executive director.”
Metra CEO Don Orseno will be leaving the agency this fall after serving more than 30 years in various posts.
Oberman took over at Metra after the agency came under fire for ousting former Executive Director Alex Clifford, who became embroiled in a dispute with some board members over political…