Transportation News for March 6, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on March 6, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 3/6/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kathryn A. Wolfe

CRUDE OIL DERAILMENT IN ILLINOIS: So far, there’s no word on what caused a BNSF train carrying crude oil to derail and catch fire Thursday, sending flames and black smoke shooting into the air — the third such accident in a matter of weeks. The train derailed in a rural area south of Galena, Illinois, less than 20 miles outside of Dubuque, Iowa. No injuries were reported as of late Thursday night, according to a BNSF spokesman. Local authorities instituted a voluntary evacuation for folks living within one mile of the accident and the FRA dispatched an investigative team to the scene. “Once the scene is contained and secured, we will be conducting a thorough investigation to determine the probable cause of the derailment,” FRA spokesman Kevin Thompson said.

The train had 105 cars, 103 of which were carrying crude oil. Of those tank cars — which were the newer model CPC-1232 — eight derailed, according to local reports (Read more from the Telegraph Herald: Similar fiery oil train derailments occurred in Ontario and West Virginia last month.

And here’s video from a plane flying near the scene, showing flames burning long after dark:

Related: White House mulled gas regs for oil trains — Reuters reports: “The Obama administration weighed national standards to control explosive gas in oil trains last year but rejected the move, deciding instead to leave new rules to North Dakota alone. Current and former administration officials told Reuters that they were unsure of federal jurisdiction to force the energy industry to drain volatile gas from crude oil originating in North Dakota’s fields. Instead, they opted to back North Dakota’s effort to remove the cocktail of explosive gas — known in the industry as ‘light ends’ — and rely on the state to contain the risk.” Full story:

But DOT disputes Reuters story: DOT spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling said Thursday that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx did meet with the White House as the rule was being developed, but that Reuters’ accounts of what took place in those meetings, and their timing, was wrong. “The entire premise is inaccurate,” Emmerling said. “The White House never balked at anything — the secretary met with the White House on the tank car rule and they discussed all of it.”

OPEN SKIES NEVER ENDS: With all the Open Skies back and forth between U.S. airlines, travel groups, Gulf carriers, pilot associations and their allies, it can be hard to keep up with the ongoing fight. On Thursday, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies released a 55-page white paper that the group claims shows clear evidence of Persian Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad and Qatar receiving more than $40 billion in government subsidies — in clear violation of Open Skies pacts with the U.S. Read the report:

But supporters of the Middle Eastern carriers pushed back against the claims, with U.S.-UAE Business Council President Danny Sebright saying U.S. airlines should “stop complaining and start competing.” “The Big 3 missed the biggest shift in global travel trends with the rapid growth of travel to, in, and between emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and now, on account of mistakes of their own doing, the Big 3 are looking to blame Gulf carriers,” Sebright said in a statement.

DeFazio wades into Open Skies spat: House Transportation ranking member Peter DeFazio is throwing his support behind the U.S. airlines. “The report released today highlighted outrageous and clearly anti-competitive practices of the three largest airlines of the Gulf states of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates,” DeFazio said. “It appears the ME3 carriers, buoyed by massive state subsidies, special favors, and a general disregard of fair labor practices, have a competitive advantage over U.S. carriers.”

Letter coming: “We need to make sure these ME3 carriers are playing by the rules set under the Open Skies agreement. That’s why I will soon send a letter to Secretary Foxx and Secretary [John] Kerry, urging them to protect U.S. jobs and immediately act to restore a fair, competitive balance between U.S. air carriers and Gulf state-subsidized airlines,” he added.

But what about DOT? The administration has been pretty quiet on the issue since officials from Delta, United and American met with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker earlier this year asking that the Open Skies agreements with Qatar and UAE be renegotiated. A DOT official told MT on Thursday that the department is “carefully reviewing the claims” and “closely coordinating” with the State and Commerce departments, but “no decisions have been made.”

Sidenote: The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, whose membership includes Delta, United and American, in addition to various labor groups including ALPA, is different from the Americans for Fair Skies group, a “grass-roots organization” led by former ALPA President Lee Moak.

WOOHOO, FINALLY FRIDAY. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Your MT host’s favorite part of yesterday was stumbling upon this video of a sea turtle eating a jellyfish in one bite. CHOMP (

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.

“Well, pistons keep on churnin’ and the wheels go ’round and ’round…” (h/t Andrew Hoskins)

NTSB INVESTIGATING LAGUARDIA ACCIDENT: The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into what caused a Delta jet to slide off a LaGuardia Airport runway Thursday, crashing through a chain-link barrier and injuring several people, though not severely. Capital New York has the latest: “The commercial airliner that crash landed at LaGuardia Airport on Thursday skidded off a runway that had just been cleared of snow, stopping inches short of the icy waters that surround the terminal. With no serious injuries reported, it appeared a true disaster was averted.”

“But the incident was nonetheless a puzzling spectacle that served to underscore the risks of flying in major winter storms like the one that descended on New York. ‘That runway had been plowed literally minutes before, and other pilots had reported good braking action,’ Pat Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said at an afternoon news conference.”

Pilot response helped: “‘I think the pilot did everything he could to slow the aircraft down,’ Foye said. ‘Obviously his good efforts were reflected in the fact that there were only minor injuries.’ … There were 127 passengers and five crew members aboard the plane, which departed Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International around 9 a.m., according to Gail Grimmett, a senior vice president at the airline. … The FDNY said, however, that there were 28 total injuries and five were transported to the hospital. All had non-life-threatening injuries.” Read the full story:

Related read: Why aren’t heated runways a thing? The Wall Street Journal:

** A Message from Americans for Fair Skies: Evidentiary findings have established more than $40 billion in subsidies from the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to their three state-subsidized airlines. This evidence confirms the largest trade violation in history and is protectionism at its worst. Learn more at **

NAMING CONTEST BRINGS THE SNARK: Well MT readers, your host asked for name suggestions for the upcoming highway and transit bill and boy did you bring it, along with a healthy side of snark. Some MT favorites include: The CRAP-22 Act (Continuing Reliability in America’s Progress for the 22nd Century); the START Bill (Short Term Authorization, Repeat Tomorrow); the FUEL TAX (For Us Everything Leads To Another extension); and the FAIL Act (Failure to Adequately Invest Long-term).

Of course it wasn’t all snark. Former FHWA counsel Fred Wagner also reached out with his suggestion: “INNOVATE” (Investing in New, National Opportunities for Visionary American Transportation Excellence). Wagner even has a blog post on the thinking behind his bill name (read it:

REPORT TIME: HIGHWAY TRUST FUND — The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation is out with a new report attempting to answer the million-dollar transpo question: How the heck do you fix the Highway Trust Fund? The Tax Foundation report throws its support behind a gas tax hike, but only one that is offset by a comparable tax cut elsewhere. “One option is to increase the gas tax, adjust it to inflation, and offset that increase by reducing another tax by the same amount of revenue,” the report says. “This swap would be revenue neutral: an exchange of one tax for another. There are good policy reasons to raise more revenue from the gas tax in exchange for lowering the revenue received from other taxes.” Some suggested offsets include reducing the tax rate for capital gains or expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read the report:

UBER GETS ANOTHER OBAMA ALUM: From Playbook – “Lindsay Elin, formerly Lindsay Siler, has joined Uber to lead community engagement. She’s moving from Chicago to D.C., where she’ll be based. Most recently, Lindsay served as National Director of Issues Campaigns for Organizing for Action, after running North Carolina for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.” Uber famously hired formed Obama campaign manager and adviser David Plouffe last fall.


-Paging Hillary Clinton: Ray LaHood to release all 30,000 emails (both professional and personal) he sent as head of DOT. BuzzFeed:

-NHTSA defends its handling of the Takata airbag investigation. The Detroit News:

-A4A has launched a new website titled “Stop [the] Air Tax Now” as the latest step in the fight over increasing the passenger facility charge:

-“Rogue pilot” could be likeliest theory in the case of the missing Malaysia Air plane. The New York Times: (h/t Bob King)

-Harrison Ford injured but alive after crash-landing his plane on a golf course. NBC:

-“How new autoworkers became second-class employees.” Bloomberg:

-Report predicts widespread adoption of self-driving cars in 15 years. The Wall Street Journal:

– D.C. bike shop employees form union in show of solidarity with Capital Bikeshare workers. The Washington Post:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 86 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 208 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 613 days.

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