The senior hypocrite from New York

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, November 9, 2017

One thing about Chuck Schumer, the senior U.S. senator from New York: You can’t fault his commitment to railroad safety.

But I’ll do so anyway.

My colleague Bill Stephens reports on the Trains News Wire that at least one safety expert is publicly calling the senator two-faced. On the one hand, Schumer will go anywhere there is a microphone to promote safe transportation. My own personal tabulation of his pronouncements just this year regarding railroads:

January 8: He demands a comprehensive safety review of passenger rail systems. “Enough with the one-off approach to passenger rail safety.”

March 9: Speaking in New Windsor, N.Y., he wants more funding for the Federal Railroad Administration for rail safety programs. “I’m fed up with the federal government. They’ve got to move their butts and do a lot more.”

April 16: In upstate Ulster, he says he won’t stand idly by while CSX parks freight trains across busy streets. “It prevents kids from going to school.”

May 23: He congratulates himself for landing a $33 million grant from the FRA for Amtrak to install positive train control between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “I am pleased FRA heeded our calls.”

August 7: He castigates the FRA for not requiring that train and engine service workers be tested for sleep apnea. “For those federal agencies to go rogue and pull the plug on sleep apnea, there is no good reason for it. We’ve called them, we’ve asked for an explanation and they don’t have a good one.”

October 28: He calls delays in installing PTC on Metro-North Railroad unacceptable. This is being overseen by the FRA. “Originally the date we set was 2015. [Officials] said they needed three more years—2018. But now they’re saying they need even more time, and that is unacceptable.”

Schumer, the Senate minority leader, has probably said much, much more on the topic of railroad safety in 2017. And for the most part, he and I are on the same wavelength. My point is that Chuck Schumer is always there.

Except when it counts.

Railroad safety is the first and foremost responsibility of the Federal Railroad Administration. You’d think that Senator Schumer, as focused as he is on railroad safety, would want a competent FRA administrator. Does he feel that Ronald Batory, the former president of Conrail Shared Assets (and before that the Belt Railway of Chicago) is qualified? Hard to say, because since early August Schumer has put a “hold” on a vote in the Senate to confirm Batory’s nomination to be FRA administrator. And the reason for this hold, which is a senatorial courtesy, has nothing to do with Batory.

Instead, all of a sudden, the senior hypocrite from New York has a new objective. As the price for releasing his hold on a confirmation vote, Schumer wants President Trump to agree to fund the $30 billion New York Gateway project that would place another tunnel beneath the Hudson River and make other improvements.

Whatever happened to railroad safety? The FRA will be hobbled so long as it is run day to day by its deputy administrator, who has no railroad knowledge or experience. The senator seems oblivious to the contradiction he has created. Could be that the hyper-concern was a sham, don’t you think?

My neck is sore from the whip-lash. Senator Schumer, tell us your priority. If it’s your grand infrastructure plan, fine. But your credibility on railroad safety is withering by the minute as the FRA drifts in the wind. If this is your way to get it all, it ain’t working.—Fred W. Frailey

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