Transportation News for March 10, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 10, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/10/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kevin Robillard

ON TAP FOR TUESDAY: Welcome to March Madness! No, your MT scribe isn’t talking about the college basketball tourney but a playoff of another sort — dueling D.C. conferences. The National League of Cities, APTA and the National Bike Summit are all hosting events in the nation’s capital today. If you’re an early riser, check out the APTA general session, kicking off at 8:30 a.m., with appearances from Sens. Sherrod Brown and Dean Heller and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Vision Zero: And over at the National Bike Summit, the group is expected to throw its support behind the “Vision Zero Act,” a bill introduced last week by Bike Caucus co-chairs Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Vern Buchanan. The bipartisan bill would create two DOT grant programs to help communities develop plans for getting all transportation-related deaths down to zero.

Giddyup, partner: And if you just happen to be in Houston today, strap on your cowboy hat and stop by Rice University around 10 a.m. EST for a transportation roundtable with House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster. He’s expected to be joined by Texas Reps. Pete Olson, Al Green, Blake Farenthold, Brian Babin, Gene Green and Kevin Brady and business leaders from Walmart and BNSF.

FOXX WANTS RAILROAD FINANCE PROGRAM TO HIT ZERO — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has set a goal of spending down the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program by the end of his time in office, acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg said Monday at the APTA conference. “He would like that account to be at zero, which means we have about $35 billion to dole out,” she said. Feinberg also said the administration had previously been “a little narrow” in their view of previous applicants but is now looking at train station improvement projects and projects that could help stabilize crude-by-rail deliveries.

FEINBERG: AMTRAK NEEDS TO BE ‘TRANSPARENT’ IN HILL DEALINGS: The acting FRA chief (and former Hill staffer) also talked Amtrak, saying the railr?oad could improve its relationship with its critics by being more transparent with Congress about finances. “I think Amtrak is sometimes guilty of bringing a little attention on themselves,” she said. “I’ve been very frank with them and I think others have been too, it is a wonderful company, a wonderful entity that provides a service that is irreplaceable. That said, it is, in my opinion, important to be transparent with the Hill. Talk about where the money’s going, talk about how you’re going to reinvest. … I think they’re getting better at that all the time.”

AMTRAK TRAIN DERAILS IN N.C.: An Amtrak train derailed in North Carolina on Monday afternoon after colliding with a tractor trailer truck at a highway grade crossing. The latest update from DOT estimates that 62 passengers suffered injuries in the crash including one with a broken leg. This incident is the latest in a series of high-profile train collisions in recent weeks including the Metro-North accident that left six people dead after the train hit an SUV stuck on the tracks and the California commuter collision that killed the train’s engineer.

ALL OPTIONS ON TABLE FOR TANK CARS: DOT’s tank car regulations may be under review at OMB, but Feinberg said the recent derailments in Canada and the U.S. are a reminder that officials are not finished looking for solutions, including possibly addressing oil volatility levels. “Everything is on the table,” she said in a Monday statement. “This situation calls for an all-of-the-above approach — one that addresses the product itself, the tank car it is being carried in, and the way the train is being operated.”

T&I leaders weigh in: The leaders of the House Transportation Committee and its rail panel penned a letter to DOT saying it’s time for the administration to roll out the regulations. “As the recent accident in West Virginia reminds us, a new standard must be established to ensure the safety of the communities through which these products move — while appropriately scoping the rule and providing all stakeholders, including rail car suppliers and manufacturers, with definitive timelines for tank-car phaseout and retrofits,” the group writes. Read more:

WELL HEY THERE, TUESDAY: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Your MT host is back in the saddle, wearing cute new heels and ready to take on Tuesday. Oh yeah, and hey there Spring, it is so, so nice to see you.

Let’s chat! Send scoops, tips, complaints and transpo trivia my way via or @heatherscope And don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“She hadn’t said a word all night, but the wheels are turnin’ in her mind. Now I was ridin’ shotgun…”

GM DEATH TOLL RISES TO 64: At least 64 people have been killed due to defective ignition switches in GM vehicles, according to the latest report from the automaker’s victim compensation fund. The Monday report shows that the fund has approved seven new death claims, bringing the total up to 64. The fund has also approved 108 injury claims to date. While crash victims and their families can no longer submit claims, the death and injury totals may rise over the next several weeks. The fund managers still have more than 1,500 claims under review. Full report:


-DeFazio writes on Open Skies: “I strongly urge the Departments of Transportation and State to consider all appropriate action to restore a competitive balance between U.S. air carriers and the [airlines in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates] and to stop letting foreign airlines use the open skies regime to trample on fair labor standards and fair competition,” House Transportation ranking member Peter DeFazio wrote to Foxx and Secretary of State John Kerry. Read it:

-Background check for rideshare: Rep. Rosa DeLauro and eight other House Democrats are asking ridesharing companies to adopt fingerprint-based background checks. The fingerprint-based checks are often required for taxi drivers and are linked to FBI and Justice Department databases. DeLauro said they’re harder to fake or fool than checks based on Social Security numbers, which both Lyft and Uber now use. Read more:

SUPREME COURT SIDES WITH AMTRAK, SORT OF: In a unanimous decision Monday, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision, ruling that Amtrak is a government entity. But the justices left many questions unanswered, sending the case back to the lower courts to be sorted out. SCOTUSblog has a good rundown of what still needs to be figured out and the implications:

WEST COAST PORTS BUSTLIN’ IN FEBRUARY: A busier than normal February compounded by a massive backlog from the months-long labor dispute means West Coast dockworkers have been very busy since a labor agreement was reached Feb. 20. Bill Tomson reports: “Working through the massive backlog of arriving containers, full of everything from consumer electronics to clothing to furniture and more, was expected to take months even at a normal pace, but imports were actually stronger than normal in February, according to the National Retail Federation. As many as 1.27 million containers arrived — a 2.3 percent increase from the same month last year, the trade association reports, based on data collected by a consulting firm.”


-Metro hires two high-profile firms to help rebuild image. The Washington Post:

-Expansion of PreCheck raises privacy concerns. The New York Times:

-Malaysia Airlines acknowledges battery lapse on missing Flight 370. The Wall Street Journal:

-Two ships collide in Houston Channel causing liquid spill. USA Today:

-N.J. lawmakers support Tesla’s bid to sell directly to car buyers. Bloomberg:

-The NTSB issues its second update on the Delta runway accident at LaGuardia:

-Is the D.C. streetcar worth saving? The Washington Post:; and Greater Greater Washington contributors weigh in on all the hype:

-NRDC blog: Does every car need eight parking spaces?