U.S. Senate signs off on confirmation of two new STB Board members

The Surface Transportation Board (STB), an independent adjudicatory and economic-regulatory agency charged by Congress with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers, received some good news, when the United States Senate confirmed Michelle A. Schultz and Robert Primus to serve as STB Board members.

Schultz, 44, was nominated to be an STB Board member in March 2018 by President Trump and is the ninth woman to serve on the STB. Schultz most recently served as associate general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Philadelphia’s commuter rail system, after SEPTA positions as manager, and later director, of legislative affairs and has extensive experience in procurement, major capital projects and commuter rail regulation. She previously worked as an associate with Philadelphia-based law firm of White and Williams, and as a law clerk with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

And President Trump nominated Primus, a longtime Democrat Congressional staffer, in September 2019.  

Primus, 49, most recently served as Most recently served as chief of staff to Rep. Nanette Barragάn, D-Calif. He also spent 20 years as a staff member for former Rep. Mike Capuano, D-Mass., including four as legislative director and the last 16 as chief of staff (while Capuano served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and was ranking member of its Railroad, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee).

Primus also previously worked for the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), former Rep. Melvin (Mel) Reynolds (D-Ill.) and former Rep. Carrie P. Meek (D-Fla.). He is only the fifth African-American to serve among 114 regulators confirmed by the Senate to the STB and its ICC predecessor, and the first African-American nominated to the STB since 1998.

Primus fills a seat left vacant by former STB member and Democrat Debra L. (Deb) Miller—a seat that was set to expire Dec. 31, 2022, and Schultz steps into the second of the 2015-created seats, with a term expiring exactly five years from the date of Senate confirmation.

At this week’s virtual RailTrends conference, which is hosted by Progressive Railroading Magazine and independent railroad analyst Tony Hatch, Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ian Jefferies said that having a full five-member slate, for the STB, is something AAR has been pushing for over the years.

“We think the Board benefits form having a full slate, so, for the moment, we have a five-member board for the first time since it was expanded to five,” he said. “The STB has been very engaged on a number of issues…like our concerns over the Final Offer Rate Review proposed rule. In my opinion, the fact that we have five members is certainly going to cause the Board to take a step back, with two members having to get ‘schooled up’ on everything the Board has been engaged on and that does not happen overnight, it is a pretty steep learning curve for economic regulation matters. I think it will probably create a board that is a bit more deliberative, more cautious. It is a lot harder to get five folks on board for something than three, if the goal is consensus, with the Board generally trying to work to get consensus.”

The addition of Schultz and Primus as STB Board members is something that the Rail Customer Coalition (RCC), a large coalition of trade associations representing the manufacturing, energy, and agricultural industries reliant on railroads, has been calling for.

In a July letter to the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the RCC said it strongly supported the confirmation of Schultz and Primus to serve as STB Board members.

The RCC’s letter explained that the confirmation of Schultz and Primus will allow the STB to “live up to its obligations under the Staggers Act and continue to pursue sensible reforms that will benefit everyone,” noting that “such reforms will increase access to competitive freight rail service and market-based rates, while cutting red tape and allowing the Board to operate more effectively.”

This announcement was warmly endorsed by Jennifer Hedrick, Executive Director, National Industrial Transportation League.

“The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) and its members congratulate Michelle Schultz and Robert Primus on their confirmation to the Surface Transportation Board,” she said. “Having a fully staffed STB is long overdue, and their addition will allow the Board to increase its focus on issues that affect freight rail users, including access to reliable and competitive rail service.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman