A fond appreciation to a fearless leader

May 10, 2024

Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson shakes hands with Local Chairperson James Boehm as Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman, center, looks on at the Davenport, Iowa, Regional Training Seminar in November 2023.

Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman joined the STB in 2019, the same year that I became the president of the SMART Transportation Division. In the five years we have been in our positions, many of the battles Marty and I have fought have been the same.

At STB, Oberman has been dedicated to making the rail industry work for the American people and our economy. What made him stand out is that he understands what SMART-TD and rail labor do to make that happen. He has always, very appropriately, seen labor as a partner in the solutions and in the industry.

Ever since he was with Metra working with SMART-TD members to keep Chicago’s passenger rail flowing, Marty has seen value in the experience and wisdom of crews on the front line. When he became a member, then chair of the STB, this mentality came with him — the people on the ground and in the cab are the ones making things work.

Oberman has gone out of his way to give SMART-TD and rail labor a voice in the direction of the industry. This has earned him tremendous respect from this organization’s leadership and from our members.

His no-nonsense, common-sense approach has served this country well, as well as providing many YouTube-worthy quotes and awkward moments for railroad executives who faced his questions. It’s been therapeutic at times to see Oberman demand accountability from rail executives who are so accustomed to dictating the situation to their will.

STB Chairman Martin Oberman addresses the SMART Leadership Conference via video in San Francisco, Calif., in 2022.
STB Chairman Martin Oberman addresses the SMART Leadership Conference via video in San Francisco, Calif., in 2022.

He has been an ally in our fight to get the nation out from under the thumb of Precision Scheduled Railroading. He’s used his clout as chairman to rally against rail carriers’ abuses of shipper embargoes. In recent months, he’s been an outspoken critic of a hedge fund’s hostile takeover of Norfolk Southern.

When given the choice, he’d prefer the industry concentrate on serving shippers and valuing its employees instead of seeing profit and operating ratios as the chief determinants of success. Throughout, he’s seen rail workers as key to this country’s economy, not as enemies of Wall Street investors. This core belief shines through in his time leading the Surface Transportation Board.

Martin Oberman is a friend of the American rail worker. I‘m proud to say that he has become a friend of mine.

When a champion of our cause retires or, as we like to say, “pulls the pin,” it’s a hard pill for the rest of us to swallow. But looking at the structure of the STB today and the watchdog role this board has carved out under Marty’s leadership, it is evident that his legacy will last for decades to come.

I want to personally wish Marty a long and happy retirement with his wife, Bonnie, beginning today. I and every hard-working American in the industry appreciates the fearlessness with which you served the STB and the nation.

Jeremy R. Ferguson,

President, Transportation Division