Transportation News for May 13, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on May 13, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 5/13/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle

DEADLY AMTRAK DERAILMENT HANGS OVER THUD MARKUP: House appropriators meet this morning to put their mark on a spending bill that would substantially cut Amtrak’s budget, just hours after one of the rail service’s trains derailed in Pennsylvania, killing at least five people. Our Kathryn A. Wolfe explains that the appropriations proposal “would slash Amtrak’s funding to $1.13 billion, less than the roughly $1.4 billion it typically receives annually. Democrats had already been expected to take a run at boosting the bill’s funding for Amtrak, but the debate … is sure to take on more urgency in light of the crash … It may also stoke the debate over delays in implementing an anti-collision technology known as Positive Train Control.” More from Pro:
Lawmakers aboard: Sen. Tom Carper was on that train but got off in Delaware before the accident, his staff told POLITICO. And Former Rep. Patrick Murphy, who was also aboard, was one of the first to tweet about the derailment:

Investigations begin: The National Transportation Safety Board will be the primary investigator of the accident and is expected to provide more details at a press conference this morning. The Federal Railroad Administration also sent investigators to the scene. And lawmakers are already making clear that they have high expectations of the probe. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a critic of the FRA’s oversight of train safety, tweeted that he and others “will need a quick, thorough investigation to determine the cause.”

LAWMAKERS PLAN TO HIT REPEAT ON REAUTHORIZATION: Down to the wire again, it appears congressional leaders are about to re-enact the last time transportation authority was about to expire, beginning with legislative action in the House and passing an extension just long enough to take off the heat. Our Heather Caygle explains: “The patch plan is similar to the path lawmakers followed last summer, whenthe House passed an $11 billion, 10-month extension with the Senate eventually following suit. And just like last year, lawmakers pushing for the longer extension have almost the exact same talking points: Congress just needs a little more time to get to a multiyear bill.”

Coming up with the cash: But it’s really not as easy as hitting repeat, since those gunning for the year-end plan want to extend both policy authority and funding, meaning they need to find about $11 billion to fill the Highway Trust Fund into December. Rep. Charles Boustany, who chairs the Ways and Means subcommittee that handles this issue, told MT on Tuesday that the committee is still trying to pick a funding source. “We’ve got a menu that we’re working through right now,” he told us.

Contingency plans: Besides Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s warnings this week that DOT won’t be able to make transportation payouts if authority lapses, the Federal Transit Administration is also trying to prep its member agencies for the possibility. “If Congress does not act prior to May 31, no new contract authority will be available for capital projects, essential maintenance, or operational support,” FTA acting Administrator Therese McMillan wrote. “As a result, it is likely that some agencies would be forced to reduce vital transit services or cut routes.” More from Pro: The letter:

Outside input: While lawmakers have not united yet around a plan, outside groups have been sending reams of suggestions their way this week. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget releases a report ( this morning recommending Congress pay “legacy costs” for previous obligations with savings from other parts of the budget, raise the gas tax by 9 cents after a year, limit annual spending to income and follow through with tax overhaul. Heritage has a new primer out on Highway Trust Fund basics: And Moody’s Analytics has published an analysis on just how bad it is that Congress hasn’t come up with a long-term plan:

COMIN’ ROUND THE BEND: Sens. Roger Wicker and Cory Booker are working to iron out last minute details for a passenger rail bill the duo could unveil as soon as today. Sources tell MT the legislation will take more of a national focus compared to the House bill, which prioritized Amtrak’s money-making Northeast Corridor in some cases. The House easily passed its version in early March.

LaHOOD MAKES CAPITOL APPEARANCE FOR ‘ADVOCACY DAY’: Standing in the shadow of the Senate, former DOT head Ray LaHood will speak this morning alongside mayors of Salt Lake City and Anaheim, Calif., about the need for investing in the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Manufacturing and union leaders will also come out for the 9 a.m. press conference on the Capitol lawn, one of many Advocacy Day events in honor of Infrastructure Week:

IT’S WEDNESDAY: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

MT finds it most amusing that Donald Trump is pushing into the political debate over infrastructure funding, professing on Twitter that he’s the only one who can fix the nation’s roads, airports and bridges. He must be bored now that the seventh season of Celebrity Apprentice wound down. Trump tweet:

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“And now you ask to use my car, drive it all day and don’t fill up the tank.”

** A Message from Americans for Fair Skies: Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have subsidized their airlines with over $42 billion, an egregious violation of the Open Skies Agreements with the United States. These subsidies are hurting American jobs and affecting international trade policy. Want to know more? Visit **

SENATORS PUSH BILL TO SHOW COST OF PORT FUEDS: Hoping to show how labor disputes hurt ports, four Republican senators have introduced a bill that would spur the collection of more data on the impacts. The sponsors say labor tiffs at West Coast container ports have resulted in $2.5 billion per day in lost economic activity. More from Pro: The bill:

AUTO SAFETY BILL REVIVAL FOLLOWS UPDATED GM DEATH TOLL: Fired up by the latest death toll from faulty GM ignition switches, Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey announced Tuesday that they plan to reintroduce legislation that would raise the cap on fines for safety violations and would force automakers to provide more information to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about incidents involving fatalities. “We now know that at least 100 people have lost their lives because GM made defective cars and lied about them and the Transportation Department failed to aggressively investigate,” the senators said in a written statement. “What caused the accident? Why did the airbags fail to deploy? All the while, GM knew, and NHTSA should have known.” The data GM released this week:

SAILING TO HAVANA — SOMEDAY: The Treasury Department is said to have issued licenses to at least six companies to open ferry operations between the United States and Cuba. But the island nation’s de facto ambassador to the U.S. says approving service between the two countries “will take time.” More from Nick Gass:

SENATE COMMERCE ADDS NEXTGEN HEARING TO DOCKET: The Senate Commerce Committee is set to announce this week that FAA Administrator Michael Huerta plans to make his way to the Hill on Tuesday to testify before the panel about NextGen and potential changes to the nation’s air traffic control system. This will be the committee’s fifth hearing in recent weeks on reauthorizing the FAA, and lawmakers will be looking to talk out legislative options for dealing with cost overruns, schedule delays and performance issues that have plagued efforts to modernize the air traffic control system. Besides Huerta, scheduled witnesses include heads of United Airlines, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the National Business Aviation Association. The committee has yet to officially announce the hearing, but details will soon be posted here:

NTSB MEDIA CHIEF LEAVES FOR NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL: Kelly Nantel shot off an email to those in her digital rolodex Tuesday, announcing that she is leaving her post as the NTSB’s director of public affairs to take on the role of vice president of communications and advocacy at the National Safety Council in Chicago. Just over a year ago, Deborah Hersman left her position as NTSB chairwoman to become president and CEO of that very same group.

RIBBLE ASKS DOT TO FORK OVER TRUCK DATA: Rep. Reid Ribble is sending a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today, asking the DOT leader to release findings from the department’s ongoing study on truck size and weight. The congressman says he hears that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has concluded “stopping distance between a five-axle truck loaded to the current federal gross vehicle weight limit of 80,000 pounds is identical to the stopping distance of a six-axle truck loaded to 97,000 pounds,” which is the configuration Ribble and other lawmakers are trying to make law. “These FMCSA results will inform our decision-making as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee begins work on the highway bill,” Ribble writes. “With the initial deadlines for the results already behind us, it is imperative that DOT release any completed study results, including these findings, in real time.” The letter:


— Tesla pledges to meet China charging standards. The Wall Street Journal:

— Toyota and Nissan widen airbag recall by 1.6 million cars in Japan. Bloomberg Business:

— SideCar partners on medical marijuana deliveries. LA Times:

— Wisconsin losing reputation for bicycling and national group blames Scott Walker:

— Pennsylvania is making its roads safer and not in the way you’d think. Route Fifty:

— Advocates want more wheelchair-accessible taxi services. AP:

— Revenue for U.S. trucking companies reaches record $700 billion. The Wall Street Journal:

— GM halts factory in southern Brazil amid shipping standoff. Reuters:

— Southwest pilots convene strike committee. The Wall Street Journal:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 18 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 140 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 546 days.

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