Transportation News for February 17, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on February 17, 2015


By Heather Caygle and Kathryn A. Wolfe
With help from Kevin Robillard

DRONE (RULES) FLY: In a holiday surprise, the FAA pushed out its much-anticipated proposed rule to allow businesses to legally use drones, along with a presidential memo intended to help address privacy issues. (Sources say it was rushed out Sunday morning because someone accidentally posted the rule’s economic justification online Saturday night. Happy Valentine’s Day!) The final rule is probably years away, but the battle lines are already forming: It doesn’t require stringent licensure for drone “controllers,” which is good news for industry, but may rile up pilots unions. Those who want to use drones to deliver things also are unhappy – drones won’t be able to carry external weight, and won’t be able to drop anything. And, of course, privacy will remain perhaps the biggest concern. Kevin has much more in his story . Also, read the rule summary and proposed rule .

SCHUMER WANTS ‘REFINING’: New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said overall the drone rule is positive, but that it needs “a lot more refining.” He wants both privacy protections and commercial uses for drones expanded. He also raised the specter of the White House’s unwelcome overnight drone guest, and urged the FAA to consider requiring drones be equipped with “geo-fencing technology … to limit where it can fly.”

WEST VIRGINIA BURNING: A CSX train hauling more than 100 cars stuffed with Bakken crude has derailed in West Virginia, with some 14 tankers and a house on fire. So far no injuries have been reported, but a large fire was still burning Monday night, some 1,000 people had been evacuated and West Virginia has declared a state of emergency, according to media sources. The Federal Railroad Administration is sending Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg to assess the situation. AP:, LA Times:

YOUR MOVE, TAX GUYS: The chairmen of the House and Senate transportation committees have a big job ahead – not only do they have to write a multiyear highway and transit bill that incorporates Republican priorities without alienating Democrats, but they also have that pesky funding issue – all before May 31. But House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster and his Senate counterpart, EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe, say they’re doing it different this time compared to last year. The House T&I Committee didn’t even put out a long-term bill last year. And while the EPW Committee (led by then-chairwoman Barbara Boxer) easily approved a bill, there was no funding to back it up, resulting in the 10-month extension that runs out in May.

The great wait: This time the two chairmen say they plan to work more closely with the House and Senate tax-writing committees before producing a multi-year bill. ‘What I’m not going to do is come out and do … what she did last time, say ‘this is our bill’ and now this is their problem, let them try to them to fund it,” Inhofe said. Shuster had similar sentiments: “Wait until we get the funding and let’s craft a bill that we know what the timeframe is. And I think that makes more sense to me,” he said. “We’re drafting [a bill] right now as we speak, but the driving force behind it is going to be the funding. We don’t want another two year bill, we want a five, six year bill.”

SPEAKING OF TAXES: House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan sat down with reporters Friday and talked a little about transportation funding before jetting off for a trade trip to Asia. Kelsey Snell reports: “[Ryan’s message]: He sees a window for a tax rewrite this year, but it has to be done by the summer to move. …He did leave the door open to using tax reform to help pay for the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.’

Tax reform ‘can help fix this’: ”If we can get comprehensive tax reform that can help fix this,’ he said, it is an option. ‘The only way repatriation can actually work to help with the Highway Trust Fund problem is through comprehensive tax reform.’ He said short-term tax holidays and deemed repatriation don’t work. If tax reform doesn’t happen, he will be forced to find the funding from another source.’ Read the full story:

** Say yes to more U.S. jobs, increased tourism, economic growth, lower airfares and more transatlantic competition. With nearly 300 American flight attendants already working in the U.S., and with a new Boeing fleet, approval of Norwegian Air International will allow Norwegian to continue creating jobs and generating economic growth. **

ALL QUIET ON THE NHTSA FRONT: Not even 64 million recalled cars and 50 deaths can break congressional gridlock. Kevin brings the story: “After a year of record-breaking recalls and despite a series of congressional hearings revealing critical mistakes by the industry’s federal watchdog and what some senators alleged was a criminal cover-up by the nation’s largest automaker, reforming the nation’s auto safety laws is toward the bottom of this year’s congressional to-do list.

Not even personal horror stories – a woman convicted for a role in her boyfriend’s death when a General Motors ignition switch defect was at fault, an Air Force lieutenant partially blinded by an exploding airbag, even a recently discovered double defect that could cause an airbag to explode at random and send shrapnel at a driver – have been enough to spur lawmakers in either GOP-controlled chamber of Congress. ‘Are there still some things we can do [to improve NHTSA?] I think there are,’ House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. ‘But it’s not at the very top of my priority list today.’ Read Kevin’s cant-miss story:

‘On edge in a good way’: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx touched on NHTSA’s safety culture during a reporter briefing last week: “Our agency should always be on edge, in a good way. We should always be asking ourselves harder questions than the rest of the world does about where we are and how we can do what we do better. And that’s the kind of culture that we’re trying to establish,” he said.

NO MOOD FOR EXCUSES: House lawmakers weren’t in the mood to go easy on Metro Friday. Instead, they lined up to blast the agency, questioning Metro’s handling and management of the January smoke accident that left one woman dead. ‘I can think of nothing worse than being smoked to death underground,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said at the hearing, which was jointly held by two different House Oversight subcommittees.

Top to bottom review coming: Much of the criticism focused on already-known problems: That D.C. Fire and EMS had difficulty communicating with Metro and may not have had all the information they needed when entering the tunnel, that passengers were left in the dark as to how to respond and that the system’s ventilation system sucked air into the train instead of expelling it. Metro Board Chairman Mort Downey said the agency would perform a top-to-bottom review of the command center where many decisions were made. Kevin has more:

SPEEDIER TRAVEL, COMING RIGHT UP: If you’re an international traveler with a smartphone, you’re in luck. USA Today reports: “The Department of Homeland Security said Friday it will install 340 more airport kiosks to automate passport inspections – a move the White House says will reduce wait times for international arrivals by up to 30%. …The administration is also expanding a program, first used at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to allow certain travelers to submit their passport information and customs declaration form through a smartphone app before their customs inspection. That program will be rolled out to 20 more airports by the end of next year. Read more:

THE LOBBYING LEAD: The Jerry Costello Group has registered to lobby for two transportation organizations – the Association of American Railroads and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, POLITICO Influence reports.


-If you’re going to Singapore anytime soon, make sure to visit this restaurant that delivers your food via drone. The Washington Post:

-Lyft looking to raise $500 million to take on Uber. The New York Post:

-Video: An inside look at Atlanta’s 22-mile pedestrian friendly Beltline. CityLab:

-California high-speed rail agency is up to a year behind schedule in buying the land it needs, the AP reports:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 103 days and DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 225 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 630 days

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