Oberman, former Metra chair and alderman, emerges as possible pick for U.S. agency

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 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.

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

If nominated, Oberman would likely have a strong patron in U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, considered the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate next to Chuck Schumer of New York.

One Illinois matter that came before the STB recently involves a long-running dispute between the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The STB took no action in the matter except to urge both parties to negotiate.

Both sides announced this month that they reached a tentative agreement in the fight over Illinois Tollway’s access over CP’s right-of-way and possibly through the railroad’s Bensenville Yard next to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

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