The beheaded FRA

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Monday, November 06, 2017

We know that railroading is a dangerous sport. You can easily get hurt, or worse. In 2017 through August, 2,800 railroaders were injured on duty. At least ten of those employees died, the latest being 48-year-old Jon Beckman, crushed between two cars during a Union Pacific switch-yard derailment on September 22 in Arlington, Tex. Plus, it is worth noting that the two states with the most railroaders injured this year are New York and New Jersey.

I mention that last fact because the four U.S. senators from those two states appear to care not a whit about railroad safety, including the welfare of their own constituents. The federal government regulates railroad safety through the Federal Railroad Administration, which has been without an administrator since January. Since August, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and Cory Booker and Bob Menendez from New Jersey have prevented a Senate vote on the nominee, Ronald Batory, a lifelong railroader.

Batory is being held hostage while these four senators, all Democrats, try to shake $15 billion from their government to pay for their pet project, the New York Gateway, which includes new rail tunnels under the Hudson River and many other bells and whistles.

According to my sources, they don’t object to Batory in any manner. Nobody objects to Batory—he cleared the Senate Commerce Committee by a unanimous vote on August 2.

On that same day, Schumer, acting on his own behalf and that of the other three senators, put a “hold” on the confirmation vote on the Senate floor for Batory and two other U.S. Department of Transportation nominees.

A “hold” is an arcane Senate courtesy that lets any senator, for any reason, hold up the confirmation vote on any presidential nominee. The only way out is for the senator who initiated the hold to release it, or for the Senate to invoke cloture and force a vote. In recent years, only a bare majority is needed to force a floor vote for this level of appointment.

The four got a commitment from former President Obama to fund the Gateway project. But before he left office in January, Obama couldn’t convince Congress to go along. By all reports, President Trump is not opposed to Gateway, either. But he appears to not like being held up for blackmail, and Gateway isn’t part of his 2018 budget, which the Senate began debating last month.

So here we are. People are getting whacked and some are dying, while Schumer, Gillibrand, Booker and Menendez play games. The FRA is being overseen, meanwhile, by deputy administrator Heath Hall, a decent fellow without a minute of railroad experience, whose qualifications include stints in PR and marketing in his native Mississippi. He’s probably doing the best he can, which probably isn’t good enough.

Do you feel, as I do, just a little bit put off at this state of affairs? You don’t have to just sit there.

Contact your senators and tell them how you feel. It’s easy; just go here. Tell them it’s important that the Federal Railroad Administration has permanent and competent leadership—if not Batory, then someone else. You might also tell them it’s not cool for the senators from New York and New Jersey to use this office as a pawn in their blackmail.

You might also contact the offices of Schumer, Gillibrand, Booker, and Menendez and deliver the same message. Tell the rest of us what they say in response.—Fred W. Frailey

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