Freight railroads and shippers alike praised the Senate confirmation this week of two additional members to the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The confirmations of Robert Primus and Michelle Schultz come at a time when the board is addressing long-standing issues surrounding revenue adequacy and grappling over shippers’ concerns about rail service.
The confirmations of Primus and Schultz also mean that the board will now be fully staffed. The Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2015 expanded the board roster from three members to five, but the board has never had the full complement of members until now.
Primus, a Democrat, has been considered as a possible Board candidate for some time, according to a September 2019 Railway Age article. He has served as chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano, a Democrat representing Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, the nomination of Schultz, a Republican, was stalled last year because Congress tends to pair Republican and Democrat nominees to the Board to go through the nomination process together, FreightWaves reported in July.
Schutlz has served as deputy general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, a large public transportation agency popularly known as SEPTA.
The Senate Commerce Committee received the nomination of Primus on July 21. The nomination of Schultz has been pending since July 2019.
“The freight rail industry welcomes Michelle Schultz and Robert Primus to their new roles and looks forward to working with them to meet our shared goal of guaranteeing that railroads can deliver for shippers and the U.S. economy. We look forward to robust, transparent discussions with them as they step into their new roles,” said Ian Jefferies, Association of American Railroads president.
Chuck Baker, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, said, “The board regularly deals with important issues for short line railroads and we look forward to working with both new members to maintain and enhance the ability of small business short line freight railroads to play a key role in a strong and vibrant freight rail system.”
Meanwhile, multiple trade groups representing shipper interests all praised the confirmations and addition of two members to the board, with many seeing an opportunity to continue to advocate for potential reforms.
The Freight Rail Customer Alliance (FRCA), made up of members including more than 3,500 electric, utility, agriculture, chemical and alternative fuel companies and consumers, said it looked forward to continuing to work with the STB on areas such as service issues related to precision scheduled railroading and rail rate review issues.
“We sincerely thank the White House, Senate Commerce Committee and the full Senate for seeing these two nominations through the process. … The board will have five members, resulting in enhanced efficiency and transparency for the board benefiting all stakeholders – including shippers and rail carriers and the communities we both serve,” said FRCA President Shelley Sahling-Zart.
American Chemistry Council President Chris Jahn said the two appointees “bring a wealth of experience to the board when it comes to tackling complex transportation and policy issues, which will serve them well as the STB looks to modernize the nation’s freight policies. With the addition of Primus and Schultz, the board is in a strong position to enact much-needed reforms and fulfill its congressional mandate to promote a competitive and reliable freight rail system.”