Q&A with STB Vice-Chair Daniel R. Elliott III

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WASHINGTON – A change in the White House brought about a change for Surface Transportation Board Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III. As is customary when control of the Executive Branch shifts from one part to the other, President Donald Trump nominated Republican Ann D. Begeman to be acting chairman.

On Feb. 1, Begeman announced that Elliott would become vice chairman. He will remain on the board until his second term ends December 2018. Elliott, 54, grew up in Cleveland. He graduated from the University of Michigan, and received his law degree from The Ohio State University law school in 1989. He represented the United Transportation Union before the STB and other federal agencies before President Barack Obama appointed him to the board in 2009. He served as board member and chairman, and was appointed as chairman in his second term in June 2015.

Q. The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act has been on the books for just over a year. What has the board done that's given you the most satisfaction?
A. The most satisfying the thing was we were given the job to implement the Reauthorization Act, and we hit every deadline in that year period that we were asked to hit by Congress.

Q. What else is to be done?
A. There is the expediting of rate case proceeding, which is still ongoing. We issued a rate case report pursuant to the Reauthorization Act. That report has been submitted to Congress. It was done by InterVistas, and we had economic roundtable in October looking at the report and other ways of looking at the rate case process that we have. We intend to have a hearing on all of that in April.

Q. Begeman is now the acting chairman. The president is going to nominate two more people to the board. What can a new member expect?
A. There's a lot to learn when you walk in the door. The staff will work hard to brief you on issues. You're constantly being briefed on cases. There's a lot to read, there are various cases we would point you to that are important in the history of the agency you can study. It's a learning process.

Q. Do you have to be a lawyer, or have a knowledge of railroads?
A. Everybody on the board I've dealt with have had some kind of transportation background. It's been rare in the history of the agency where that has not been the case. Our hope is without that knowledge, the person coming in wants to learn.

Q. There are so many issues that require a kind of dynamic balancing: reciprocal switching, rate reasonableness, safe harbor. What do you do to achieve that balance?
A. We have a strong group of economists who evaluate any type of decision we make to see what impact it would have. We try to keep a balance between a healthy railroad industry and the need for regulation for shippers that are subject to market dominance get their fair day in court.

Q. Every region of the country has basically two competing railroads. Is that enough competition to keep the playing field level?
A. That depends on who you talk to. The shippers have concerns about the number of mergers that took place in the 1980s and 1990s, and the number of Class I railroads that exist today. We look at each instance on a case-by-case basis. If someone brings a rate case, we look to see if they're served by two or one railroad. If we see there's no competition, that's when we start getting involved.

Q. Is that the most difficult balance to maintain?
A. One of our jobs is to keep a healthy industry, and balance that with a shipper's right to reasonable rates and reasonable practices. We look at how the market is changing. I don't think anybody wants to go back to the way it was pre-Staggers. One of our goals is to regulate in a responsible way.

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