Transportation News for March 5, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 5, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/5/2015

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

HOUSE PASSES AMTRAK BILL, NOW WHAT? The House overwhelmingly passed a four-year Amtrak reauthorization Wednesday before jetting out of town (details below). But that may be the end of the line, at least for now, since the Senate has shown no urgency to draft its own version. “We really haven’t considered it yet, to tell you the truth,” Sen. Deb Fischer told MT. The Nebraska lawmaker is chairwoman of the Senate Commerce subpanel with rail jurisdiction. “I think we’ll wait and see what they pass; … we’ll look at it then,” she added shortly before the House vote.
Highway bill add-on? The Senate Commerce Committee is more focused on freight rail at this point and is expected to mark up a bill later this month making changes to the Surface Transportation Board, the primary freight rail regulator. And Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, along with Commerce leaders John Thune and Bill Nelson, reintroduced a bill Wednesday to extend the implementation deadline for positive train control until 2020 (

But just because the Senate committee isn’t ready to roll out an Amtrak bill doesn’t mean we won’t see something rail-related on the president’s desk this year. On Wednesday, Thune suggested the idea of a broader rail package or making it part of the transportation bill. “I’ve talked with Chairman [Bill] Shuster a lot about it, and our staffs are talking,” he told Kevin. “He’s interested in the passenger piece, we’ve got a rail component we’d like to add, so there may be a rail package that can kind of emerge, maybe as a standalone or maybe as part of the highway bill.”

House floor action: The House easily passed the Amtrak reauthorization by a vote of 316-101. There was strong support for the legislation despite Heritage Action urging a “no” vote and including the bill on its legislative scorecard. Before final passage, the House defeated an amendment from Rep. Tom McClintock to eliminate all federal subsidies for Amtrak (although 147 Republicans did vote in favor of the proposal). Lawmakers approved a handful of noncontroversial amendments including a proposal to study the effectiveness of train horns at grade crossings, a mandate that states develop grade crossing safety plans and former T&I Chairman John Mica’s watered-down request for a Northeast Corridor study.

And who could forget about #PetsonTrains: The L.A. Times is winning the pets on trains coverage: “From the rubble of hurt feelings and partisan gridlock that Congress has become, Lily the French bulldog has emerged as a peacemaker. The 15-pound dog, with the jowls of a young Winston Churchill and the pluck of a latter-day Snoopy, is the inspiration for Rep. Jeff Denham’s measure approved Wednesday to allow dogs and cats to ride on Amtrak trains.” Read more:

COMEDY CORNER: BILL NAMING CONTEST, WINNER GETS WINE — When MT asked T&I leaders if a rail title could be included in the MAP-21 reauthorization, House Transportation ranking member Peter DeFazio jokingly responded, “What’s MAP-21?” before adding that it was T&I Chairman Bill Shuster’s turn to name the bill. “So we’re already starting a contest for acronyms that mean something. And there will be a bottle of good Oregon wine for the best one,” DeFazio said.

Alright MT readers, do you accept the challenge? If so, feel free to send any good bill title suggestions my way. Wine is on the line here.

** A Message from Americans for Fair Skies: Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are cheating. They are subsidizing their airlines, breaking the rules established in Open Skies Agreements. This creates an un-level playing field for the US aviation industry and its employees and is predatory protectionism at its worst. Learn more at **

FISCHER QUESTIONS FMCSA RESPONSE: Sen. Deb Fischer told MT she left a Wednesday hearing on FMCSA reforms feeling disappointed. The Senate Commerce transportation subcommittee chairwoman said she was surprised FMCSA’s acting administrator couldn’t name a single way he plans to reform the agency’s CSA program. “I was a little surprised by the acting director’s comments when I was questioning him, that he didn’t have a response on looking at reforms that were there and looking at accidents and how those are gauged,” she told MT. “So that was disappointing.” CSA — short for Compliance, Safety, Accountability — scores truckers based on safety and has long been a thorn in the industry’s side. Truckers have said its scores aren’t weighted based on fault, for instance. Fischer and FMCSA acting Administrator Scott Darling did chat after the hearing, though, and he promised to “get some things to me,” she said.

GATHER ’ROUND, THURSDAY’S HERE. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. We’re looking forward to a snowy (and celebratory) Thursday as Congress jets outta town a day early.

Got any good margarita recipes, scoops, tips, complaints or transportation trivia? Send ’em my way at or tweet @heatherscope. And don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

“They work in their office, drive SUVs. They pray for their babies and they worry ’bout me…”

FEDS KICK OFF DRONE PRIVACY PROCESS: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is officially kicking off the drone privacy process by asking stakeholder groups to weigh in on the issue. The process — which typically includes academics, business and privacy advocates — aims to create a voluntary set of privacy standards for commercial drone use. President Barack Obama ordered the NTIA to convene the discussion in a memorandum accompanying the FAA’s drone rule proposal last month. The first public meeting has to take place within 90 days. Wanna know more? Request for comment here:

OOH — EE — OOH: NTSB COULD REOPEN BUDDY HOLLY CRASH — The NTSB is evaluating a petition from a pilot to reopen the investigation into the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly — but don’t get too excited. Some breathless media have suggested that the NTSB has decided on a do-over already, but spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the agency evaluates every petition it receives. “We haven’t ‘reopened’ the investigation. We are reviewing the petition to determine if it even meets the criteria for a petition” — primarily, whether it contains information suggesting the original conclusion — pilot error — was wrong, she said. Nantel said it will take a few months to review the petition and could take a year or more to evaluate the petition’s merits, assuming the board agrees to such a thing. Nantel said the NTSB gets about 10 petitions each year, only half of which even warrant a review. And see the original crash report from 1959 here:

MAILBAG: AIRLINES WRITE TO CONGRESS ON PFC: A4A along with the CEOs of seven airlines wrote to the leaders of the House Transportation Committee and Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday asking them to oppose a hike in the passenger facility charge. Read the letter:

SUPREME COURT REJECTS CSX TAX CASE: Brian Faler reports: “The Supreme Court today rejected a bid by the CSX railroad company to stop the state of Alabama from imposing a 4 percent sales tax on its diesel fuel purchases. The company had argued the levy was discriminatory because its competitors in the trucking and water-based transportation industries aren’t subject to the same tax. The court ruled 7-2 to send the case back to the 11th Circuit Court, which had sided with CSX, to consider whether a 19-cent-per-gallon fuel tax paid by truckers is roughly equivalent, and whether there are other reasons for the different tax treatments.” Read the decision:


– Dr. Gridlock: Killing the Purple Line would be a radical step. The Washington Post:

-This is cool: Check out the only FAA-certified ice runway in the U.S. Yes, ice. Wired:

-Did airlines get rid of the fuel surcharges? The Wall Street Journal:

-Bicycle superhighways coming to a city near you? CNN:

-Taxi interest group wants investigation into Uber data breach. The Hill:

-Why can’t LaGuardia flights fly farther than Denver? Bloomberg:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 87 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 209 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 614 days.

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