By Justin Franz
U.S. Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman announced last week that he would not seek a second term with the federal regulator.
Oberman made the announcement at the RailTrends conference in New York last Thursday. Shortly after, STB spokesperson Michael Booth said that Oberman would continue to serve for a few months into 2024, despite his five-year term expiring on December 31, as is customary during board transitions.
Oberman, 78, had a legal career before entering politics in 1975 when he was elected to the Chicago City Council. Oberman made a name for himself as a reformer and often displayed an independent streak during his 12 years representing the 43rd Ward. After leaving the city council, he was appointed to the Shore Protection Commission, tasked with rebuilding the city’s shoreline. In November 2013, he was appointed to the Metra board by then-mayor Rahm Emanuel. In 2019, he was appointed by President Donald Trump to the STB, and in 2021, he was named its chair by President Joe Biden.
Oberman’s time as chair would be notable. In 2022, he blasted the executives of Class I railroads for the industry’s dismal service performance following the pandemic. During a series of hearings about the service crisis, Oberman had numerous tense exchanges with railroad officials over their use of Positive Train Control and technology like Trip Optimizer, which some said was handicapping railroaders in the field.
“The people paying more for bread, don’t care about TripOptimizer,” snapped STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman at one executive, in a memorable quote that would eventually end up on a t-shirt — easily a first for an STB chair.
Oberman also had the distinction of being on the board when it approved the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern merger earlier this year, probably the last Class I merger that will occur in North America.
“We made this decision because on the balance the merger of these two railroads will have a positive impact on the American economy and improve, for all citizens, safety and the environment,” Oberman said when announcing the merger.