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Surface Transportation Board

Surface Transportation Board
Seal of the Surface Transportation Board
Board overview
FormedJanuary 1, 1996
Preceding Board
JurisdictionUnited States Government
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Board executive
Parent departmentindependent agency
Key document

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) of the United States is an independent federal agency that serves as an adjudicatory board. The board was created in 1996 following the abolition of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and absorbed regulatory powers relevant to the railroad industry previously under the ICC's purview.[1]

The STB has broad economic regulatory oversight of railroads in the United States, including matters related to the construction, acquisition, abandonment of rail lines, carrier mergers, and interchange of traffic between carriers. The board comprises five members nominated by the President, each subject to Senate confirmation. Since 2024, Democrat Robert E. Primus has served as chair of the STB.


The STB was established on January 1, 1996 to assume some of the regulatory functions that had been administered by the Interstate Commerce Commission when the ICC was abolished.[1] Other ICC regulatory functions were either eliminated or transferred to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or the Bureau of Transportation Statistics within the Department of Transportation.

Since its founding, various legislation pertaining to the STB's functions has been introduced in Congress. In 2015, the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act was passed, which expanded the Board from three to five members.[2] The passage of the legislation transformed the STB, which had been "administratively aligned" with the Department of Transportation while still decisionally independent, into an entirely independent federal agency.

In response to concerns regarding increasing corporate concentration in the rail industry, the STB has considered proposals to encourage rail competition. In 2016, a proposal was made to establish "reciprocal switching rules" to require railroads to create arrangements where shippers could access competing carriers instead of other options. In 2022, Chairman Oberman supported reciprocal switching rules, arguing they would address shippers' complaints and encourage industry competition.[3]

Agency authority

The STB has the authority to regulate rates, service, construction, acquisition, and abandonment of rail lines, carrier mergers, and traffic interchanges.

The STB also has oversight of pipeline carriers, intercity bus carriers, moving van companies, trucking companies involved in collective activities, and water carriers engaged in non-contiguous domestic trade. The Board has broad discretion, through its exemption authority from federal, state, and local laws, to implement transportation regulation.

Performance and policy goals

The Board provides a forum for resolving surface transportation disputes and other matters within its jurisdiction. It has the authority to limit or remove regulatory requirements where appropriate.[4]

Organizational structure and members

The Board comprises five members nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. The President designates the Board's chairman from among the members. As its chief executive, the chairman coordinates and organizes the agency's work and acts as its representative in legislative matters and relations with other governmental bodies.

Robert E. Primus, chairman of the Surface Transportation Board since 2024

The current chairman is Democrat Robert E. Primus, who was nominated to the STB by President Donald Trump in 2020, confirmed by the Senate, and sworn in in January 2021. Primus was chosen by President Joe Biden to serve as chairman of the STB on May 11, 2024, succeeding Martin J. Oberman, who had been Chairman between January 2021 and May 2024.

The vice chairman represents the Board and assumes the chairman's duties as appropriate. Additionally, the vice chairman oversees matters involving the admission, discipline, and disbarment of non-attorney Board practitioners. The current vice chairman is Karen Hedlund, appointed on January 9, 2023, succeeding Michelle A. Schultz in the board's annual rotation of that position.

Name Position Party Sworn in Term expires
Robert E. Primus Chair[5] Democratic January 7, 2021[6] December 31, 2027
Karen Hedlund Vice Chair[7] Democratic January 3, 2022[6] December 31, 2025
Patrick Fuchs Board Member Republican January 17, 2019[6] January 14, 2029
Michelle A. Schultz Board Member Republican January 11, 2021[6] January 11, 2026
Vacant Board Member December 31, 2028


  • Karen J. Hedlund was confirmed on December 16, 2021, as a member of the Board. Hedlund was named vice chair on January 9, 2023.[7]
  • Patrick Fuchs was confirmed to the Board on January 2, 2019, by a voice vote in the United States Senate.
  • Michelle Schultz and Robert E. Primus were confirmed to two newly-created seats on the board on November 18, 2020, both by voice vote.[8] Schultz's term runs for five years from the day of entering office. Primus' term runs until December 31, 2027.[9] Primus was named chair on May 11, 2024.[5]

Assisting the Board in carrying out its responsibilities is a staff of 117 (FY2018) with experience in economics, law, accounting, transportation analysis, finance, and administration.[10]

Past members

  • Linda J. Morgan April 28, 1994 – December 31, 2003
  • Gus A. Owen 1995 – 1998
  • J.J. Simmons III January 1, 1996 – end of 1996
  • William Clyburn, Jr. 1998 – 2001
  • Wayne Burkes February 22, 1999 – December 31, 2002
  • Roger Nober 2002 – January 4, 2006
  • Francis P. Mulvey 2004 – January 3, 2013
  • W. Douglas Buttrey May 28, 2004 – March 13, 2009
  • Charles D. Nottingham August 2006 – 2011
  • Daniel R. Elliott III 2009 – 2017
  • Ann D. Begeman May 2, 2011 – December 17, 2021
  • Deb Miller April 28, 2014 – January 1, 2019
  • Martin J. Oberman January 22, 2019 – May 10, 2024


Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs, and Compliance

The Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs, and Compliance is the agency's principal point of contact with Congress, state and local governments, the media, industry stakeholders, and the general public. This office includes the Rail Customer and Public Assistance Program, where Board staff solves problems ranging from a simple answer to a telephone inquiry to lengthy informal dispute resolution efforts between railroads and shippers.[12]

Office of Economics

The Office of Economics analyzes rate cases, conducts economic and financial analyses of the railroad industry, and audits Class I railroads.

Office of Economics, Environmental Analysis and Administration

The Office of Economics, Environmental Analysis and Administration is responsible for undertaking environmental reviews of proposed STB actions in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws and making environmental recommendations to the STB.

Office of the Managing Director

The Office of the Managing Director handles administrative matters such as personnel, budget, and information technology.

Office of Proceedings

The Office of Proceedings (OP) is primarily responsible for developing the public record in formal cases (or proceedings) filed with the STB, making recommendations regarding the resolution of issues presented in those cases, and preparing the decisions issued by the Board.

The Office of Proceedings is a legal office consisting almost entirely of attorneys and paralegal specialists responsible for the majority of the cases at the STB. The office applies the Interstate Commerce Act, as amended by the ICC Termination Act of 1995, as well as the Board's regulations.[13] In carrying out its responsibilities, the Office of Proceedings obtains and applies any necessary input from economic, financial, operational, environmental, and other legal staff experts throughout the agency.

The Office of Proceedings includes a clearance unit responsible for tabulating votes on STB cases and recording the official outcome of those votes and a recordations unit that enters data about a filing's primary and secondary documents into the STB Recordations database, which is accessible to the public on the STB web site.

Office of General Counsel

The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) responds to questions on various legal issues. However, its primary mission is to defend the STB's decisions in court and assess the defensibility of agency decisions that might be challenged in court. Unlike most Federal agencies, the STB has independent litigating authority (49 U.S.C. § 703(d)). Under the Hobbs Act, when an STB order or decision is challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals, both the STB (represented by the agency's attorneys) and the United States (represented by U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys) must be named as "respondents" (defendants), and both have authority to appear in court in such cases.[14] STB and DOJ attorneys jointly defend the agency's decisions, with the STB's attorneys preparing written briefs (in consultation with DOJ attorneys) and presenting oral arguments on behalf of the Federal Government.

In performing defensibility assessments, OGC attorneys meet with other STB staff to discuss cases before draft decisions are prepared. Defensibility assessments are crucial to issuing sound choices that are less likely to be challenged and, if challenged, are more likely to be upheld.


  1. ^ a b ICC rides into the sunset Trains April 1996 page 18
  2. ^ "Performance and Accountability, FY 2016" (PDF). Surface Transportation Board. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  3. ^ Zimmerman, Sarah (2022-03-30). "STB poised to decide reciprocal switching rules as shippers, railroads remain at odds". Supply Chain Dive. Retrieved 2023-04-23.
  4. ^ "Overview". Surface Transportation Board. Archived from the original on August 8, 2016. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  5. ^ a b "President Biden Designates Robert E. Primus as STB Chairman". Surface Transportation Board. Retrieved 2024-05-15.
  6. ^ a b c d "Surface Transportation Board".
  7. ^ a b "Karen Hedlund Designated Vice Chairman of Surface Transportation Board". Surface Transportation Board. Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  8. ^ "PN70 - Nomination of Michelle A. Schultz for Surface Transportation Board, 116th Congress (2019-2020)". 18 November 2020.
  9. ^ "STB: Now (Finally) There Are Five". Railway Age. 19 November 2020. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  10. ^ "Surface Transportation Board Salary Statistics".
  11. ^ "Past Board Members". Surface Transportation Board.
  12. ^ "Rail Customer and Public Assistance program". Archived from the original on March 15, 2016.
  13. ^ STB regulations are found in Title 49, parts 1000 to 1332 of the Code of Federal Regulations. ("Code of Federal Regulations: Main Page". Archived from the original on 2004-04-20. Retrieved 2004-05-07.).
  14. ^ See 28 U.S.C. § 2323.In most cases,
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Surface Transportation Board
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