By unanimous consent, Democrat Karen J. Hedlund was confirmed by the Senate at the end of December 16 to the five members of the Surface Transportation Board (STB). She succeeds Republican Ann D. Begeman, whose second term expired in 2020 and who was serving a maximum legal retention period of one year. STB members are limited to two terms of up to five years, with a one-year deadline if a successor has not been confirmed by the Senate.
Meanwhile, Democrat Amitabha Bose’s appointment as federal railroad administrator fell through when Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) Opposed it. Bose, however, served as an assistant administrator and will continue in that role indefinitely, making the academic the “hold” placed by Senator Scott.
Democrat Linda Puchala and Republican Gerald W. (Trey) Fauth III are also awaiting confirmation from the Senate for new terms on the independent (executive) National Mediation Council (NMB). As the statute of the NMB allows members to remain indefinitely pending Senate confirmation of a successor – there is no term limit – Puchala and Fauth will also remain in office. Earlier this month Democrat Deirdre Hamilton was confirmed by the Senate to succeed Republican Kyle Fortson in the NMB.
Hedlund was appointed to the STB by President Biden in April 2021. In August, following a hearing on her qualifications, the Senate Commerce Committee recommended Senate confirmation. Only one dissenting committee was by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah).
Hedlund was left in limbo for nearly four months, however, as attempts at a confirmation vote were blocked by the still opposing Senator Lee, with speculation being that he did not want Hedlund to be a member of the STB while the wait was taking place. of an STB decision on a new 85-mile Intra-State Railroad in Utah.
The Uinta Basin Railway, a seven-county PPP in Utah, is intended to transport primarily crude oil fracked from the Uinta Basin to a connection with the Union Pacific Railroad. Because the new railway will connect to the national rail network, a certificate of public utility issued by the STB was required. While STB chairman Martin J. Oberman, a Democrat like Hedlund, expressed his initial concerns about the project, speculation was that Lee was uncomfortable that Hedlund might take similar views to Oberman’s. .
The Uinta Basin Railway Project was approved by the STB on December 15, subject to final environmental mitigation measures, and Lee almost immediately removed his grip on the Hedlund nomination. Oberman was the only “no” vote on the project.
Hedlund becomes the 117th member of the STB and its predecessor of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). She is only the 10th female member. The first, Virginia Mae Brown (1964-1979), was not named and confirmed until 77 years after the creation of the ICC in 1887. Other women who served on the ICC / STB are Betty Jo Christian (1976 -1979), Heather J. Gradison (1982-1990), Karen B. Phillips (1988-1994), Gail C. McDonald (1990-1995), Linda J. Morgan (1994-2003), Debra L. Miller (2014 -2018), Begeman (2011 -2021) and Michelle A. Schultz (2021-_).
Most recently, Hedlund was Vice President and National Strategy Advisor at the consultancy firm WSP USA (formerly Parsons Brinckerhoff). She has worked with federal, state and local transport agencies as well as private companies to facilitate the financing and development of transport projects through PPP. She has served as a strategic advisor on a number of WSP rail projects, including Amtrak’s Gateway program, O’Hare Express Rail and the California High-Speed Rail program, and is a leader in peer-to-peer exchanges with state and local municipal officials through the Build America Transportation Investment Center Institute.
Earlier in her career, Hedlund served as Chief Legal Counsel for the Federal Railroad Administration (2010) and then Deputy Administrator (2011-2016), heading the $ 12 billion high-speed rail subsidy program of the agency. It has also been involved in FRA-funded multi-state locomotive and passenger equipment purchases, as well as high-speed train purchases in California and next-generation Amtrak. Additionally, Hedlund oversaw FRA’s Rail Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Finance (RRIF) program. She was Chief Counsel (2009-2010) with the Federal Highway Administration and was a partner in the law firms of Nossaman LLP, Skadden Arps and Mayer Brown, focusing on transportation matters. She received a law degree from Georgetown University and an undergraduate degree from Harvard.
Hedlund’s first term will expire on December 31, 2025; Oberman’s on December 31, 2023. The other members of the STB are Democrat Robert M. Primus, whose first term expires on December 31, 2022; Republican Patrick J. Fuchs, whose first term expires on January 17, 2024; and Republican Schultz, whose first term expires on November 11, 2026.
Given his experience in the private sector and at FRA, Hedlund has perhaps the most practical transport experience on the current board, with Fuchs perhaps having the most transport-oriented experience. public policies. Previously, he was Senior Legislative Advisor to the Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee, where he helped draft railway legislation affecting freight and passenger railways, including the Reauthorization Act. Surface Transportation Board of 2015, which was the agency’s first reauthorization since its inception in 1995. Fuchs also worked on railway legislation and policy issues in a previous position in the Office of Management and Budget.
At 73, Hedlund joined Oberman as the two oldest to hold the ICC / STB position — Oberman was also 73 when he took office in 2019. Until 1978 and transition from Age Discrimination in Employment Act, federal government employees were required to retire at age 70. It was only by decree of the President of the United States that eight members of the ICC, prior to 1978, were permitted to continue working beyond the age of 70.
Fuchs is the second youngest member of the ICC / STB, having taken office in 2019 at the age of 30. Gradison was the youngest, at 29. Schultz took office in 2021 at age 48; Primus in 2021 at 49 years old.
Railway Age Capitol Hill Associate Editor Frank N. Wilner, former STB Chief of Staff, former President of the STB Bar Association and former Assistant Vice President for Policy at the Association of American Railroads, is the author of seven books, including Railroads & Economic Regulation, pending publication by Simmons-Boardman Books.