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STB’s Oberman responds to AAR complaints about RETAC meeting

Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman late last week responded to concerns raised by the Association of American Railroads about subjects discussed at the spring 2023 meeting of the board’s Rail Energy Transportation Advisory Committee (RETAC).

Oberman rejected the AAR’s assertions that RETAC’s discussions impermissibly involved matters pending before the board and ancillary topics, and strongly reiterated his support for RETAC as an important and valuable stakeholder resource for board member engagement on current issues related to the rail transportation of energy resources.

In a June 16 letter to the AAR, Oberman noted that while RETAC’s charter focuses on energy products, such as coal, ethanol and petroleum products, it’s inevitable that the committee’s discussions will encompass broader issues — such as rail service reliability, workforce levels, safety and industry financial matters.

“[As] AAR and other rail interests constantly and accurately assert, the railroads are a ‘network,’ where performance in one area or with respect to one type of commodity almost always affects or is related to performance in other areas,” Oberman wrote. “Indeed, it would be unwise for the board to attempt to artificially limit or cut off discussion by RETAC members. I have no intention of stifling a full and free discussion of rail service and the status of the freight-rail network during RETAC meetings.”

AAR officials expressed concern that discussions at an April 26 RETAC meeting “frequently veered well off-topic and into matters that are, at best, only tangentially related to the rail transportation of energy resources,” according to its May 31 letter to Oberman.

“Some attendees used the meeting as an opportunity to advocate about matters currently pending before the board,” AAR wrote. “The railroad professionals who participate in these meetings are experts in energy transportation and view the RETAC meeting as an invaluable opportunity to address the important matters at hand, but these diversions undermine the overall mission and value of RETAC, which is of substantial concern to the railroads.”