Transportation News for March 3, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 3, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/3/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kevin Robillard and Kathryn A. Wolfe

HOUSE ACTION ON RAIL TODAY: The bipartisan Amtrak reauthorization approved unanimously by the T&I Committee will see House floor action today. Lawmakers will vote on the bill in addition to a handful of amendments (more details here: But that might be the most we hear about a passenger rail reauthorization for a while since it’s not at the top of the Senate priority list. In addition to bipartisan support, the legislation also has the backing of the White House and major rail groups (read OneRail Coalition’s letter: While the White House issued a statement in support of the bill, the administration did ding the legislation for its lack of “adequate rail safety provisions.”
MT Exclusive: Heritage Action pushes ‘no’ vote— One group who’s not so happy with the rail bill? Heritage Action. The conservative group opposes the rail reauthorization and plans to count the bill as a “key vote” on its legislative scorecard.

HUERTA ON THE HILL: FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will be on the Hill this morning to talk shop with lawmakers on the House Transportation Committee. As T&I moves to the public portion of its work on the FAA bill, Huerta will be laying out his agency’s priorities before the aviation subcommittee. MT caught up with Rep. Rick Larsen, ranking member on the aviation panel, to chat about his top two priorities going into this morning’s hearing: aircraft certification and drones (plus a bonus third topic).

“[One of] the two main things I will talk to Huerta about are reforms on certification, how we can make certifying components and products more consistent nationwide,” Larsen said. “The second has to do with unmanned aerial vehicles and the rule that they’ve proposed, the response they’ve received and what they think the next steps will be for that and when.”

And the bonus: Air traffic control reform will of course come up, but not just privatization specifically. “Privatization is one way of doing it. Are there other elements of reform that [the FAA would] be willing to entertain if everybody can agree on what needs to be reformed?” Larsen said. “Right now, I would argue there’s not a consistent problem among the stakeholders that they’re all trying to solve. Everybody has their own problem they’re trying to solve.”

Great, now let’s talk timelines: “I think when a bill does break, it breaks pretty quickly. … We are trying to work expeditiously not knowing when the Senate will bring something up or what the Senate would do with a bill we send over there,” he told MT. “In this circumstance, it seems that we’re focused on surface and we’re focused on aviation but we don’t see a lot of focus on aviation from the Senate currently.”

Over on the Senate side: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune has already announced plans for a drone hearing this month, but now we know a little more about his timeline for the FAA bill. “We’ll probably mark up spring, second quarter and try and get floor time in the summer, for sure before this Sept. 30 deadline,” he told MT. “We’ll have the FAA administrator and folks in, we’ll have some hearings April-ish.”

-Speaking of FAA reauthorization issues, a new poll released this morning by Airlines for America shows significant opposition to increasing the Passenger Facility Charge. Pros get more:

FOXX TALKS BUDGET TODAY: Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will also be on the Hill today, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on his department’s fiscal 2016 budget request. The DOT chief was on the Hill Monday to meet with Sen. Deb Fischer, chairwoman of the Commerce subcommittee that oversees transportation. “The secretary and I are always pretty straightforward with each other,” Fischer told MT about the Monday meeting. “We talked about trying to streamline the environmental issues and process that is out there so we don’t have a lot of duplication in that process.”

And the Highway Trust Fund? “We both know that there’s issues out there that we’re going to have to work on to see if we can get a majority to fund roads long term,” Fishcer said. Her office also posted this photo:

TOO COOL FOR TUESDAY. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Your MT host is still having a hard time walking down stairs after a weekend training session with a former Marine. Squats are hard, y’all.

Got any good scoops, tips, complaints or transportation trivia? Hit me up at or send a tweet: @heatherscope. And don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“And now these days when I drive through a small town, I turn my stereo up and roll my windows down…”

** A Message from Americans for Fair Skies: Qatar and United Arab Emirates are shredding the Open Skies agreements they signed by subsidizing their airlines with over $40 billion. Therefore, the U.S. aviation industry isn’t competing against companies — it is competing against Sheiks and Crown Princes. We must restore fairness to our Open Skies. Learn more at **

NELSON, THUNE CALL OUT FAA ON CYBERSECURITY: Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune and ranking member Bill Nelson want answers from the FAA after a GAO report highlighted cybersecurity weaknesses in the air traffic control system. “These vulnerabilities have potential to compromise the safety and efficiency of the national airspace system, which the traveling public relies on each and every day,” Thune and Nelson wrote to Huerta. The duo request that the FAA provide “a full accounting” of the status of 17 GAO recommendations to make the agency’s information systems more secure. Read the letter: and the GAO report:

MARKEY, BLUMENTHAL MOVE RECALL BILL: Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are introducing a bill aimed at keeping potentially dangerous recalled cars off the road. The bill would demand DMVs send recall notices along with registration reminders, and will typically require vehicle owners to fix their recalled cars before registering with some exceptions. Only 65 percent of recalled cars actually get fixed within 18 months of a recall, according to estimates, leaving more than 30 million cars on the road with unaddressed recall issues. Bill text:

Related recall reads: Takata plans to double airbag replacements over next six months. The Wall Street Journal:; And five families affected by the GM ignition switch recall have rejected offers from the automaker’s victim compensation fund. More from the Detroit News:

DERAILED CRUDE TRAIN HAD HIGH LEVELS OF GAS: The Wall Street Journal reports: “The crude oil aboard the train that derailed and exploded two weeks ago in West Virginia contained so much combustible gas that it would have been barred from rail transport under safety regulations set to go into effect next month. Tests performed on the oil before the train left North Dakota showed it contained a high level of volatile gases, according to a lab report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.” Full story:


-Ports are getting creative as cargo piles up. The Wall Street Journal:

-California lawmakers send letter to FRA, PHMSA over concerns with possible revisions to oil train rule:

-John Oliver tries to make the infrastructure funding crisis sexy. Gawker:

-“More thoughts needed on wide use of drones.” The Wall Street Journal:

-Guess who’s getting into the publishing business. Uber. Wired:

-New D.C. mayor considers killing plans for streetcar expansion. WAMU:

-Georgia lawmakers consider doing away with tax break on jet fuel. The AP: (h/t Bob King)

-CBO report: Public spending on transportation and water projects since 1956.

-An update on the California high-speed rail project:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 89 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 211 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 616 days.