Transportation News for May 14, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on May 14, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 5/14/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle, Nick Gass, Zachary Warmbrodt and Kathryn A. Wolfe

AMTRAK DERAILMENT SPOTLIGHTS PTC RULES: Knowing now that the Amtrak train that derailed Tuesday night was traveling at twice the recommended speed (, lawmakers will surely be taking another look at enforcement of pending rules requiring railroads to install technology to monitor and control train movement. NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt told reporters Wednesday night that Positive Train Control technology would have prevented the derailment, noting that Amtrak has equipped much of the Northeast Corridor with a kind of PTC called “Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement,” but the rail service hasn’t yet installed the technology in the region where the train ran off the tracks: Congress has set a year-end deadline for railroads to implement PTC technology, but lawmakers from both parties have proposed extending that timeframe by three to five years.
Dilatory proposals: Just last month, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced a bill ( that would give railroads a few more years to implement an anti-collision safety system: And the Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill in late March that would delay enforcement of the rule for five years:

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday that if reports about the train’s speed are true, the data “would argue powerfully for immediate, urgent progress on critical life-saving technology like Positive Train Control, which prevents trains from speeding. Delaying PTC only leads to preventable and predictable tragedy.” Rep. Rosa DeLauro tried Wednesday to add $825 million for PTC installation within fiscal 2016 transportation spending legislation, but the House Appropriations Committee voted down her amendment:

Funding feud: Those same House GOP appropriators voted Wednesday to cut Amtrak’s budget (to the extreme chagrin of their Democratic peers): But that mark may not hold up in the Senate, where subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins says she is rooting around for more money to devote to rail safety. “The Amtrak accident we still don’t know much about, but I am hoping to be able to dedicate some additional funding for rail safety in general,” she told POLITICO on Wednesday. “There are plenty of indications that there are issues with rail safety. We have had a lot of derailments. We’ve had a lot of accidents. … So there are a lot of reasons for us to take a look at this.”

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

Reporting from the train crash site in Pennsylvania, our Kathryn A. Wolfe sends big thanks to the owners of Pete’s Clown House Restaurant, who put out power cords and phone chargers, and kept the restrooms open after they closed, all for an unruly mob of journos there to cover the derailment. Also bacon!

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“Elmo, you can drive my car.” h/t JD.

** 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 **

LEADERS ‘MAKING PROGRESS’ ON TRUST FUND PAY-FORS: Lawmakers have just one week left to pass a transportation patch before they are scheduled to jet off for Memorial Day recess and stay gone until just after current authority expires on May 31. Senate Finance leaders and House Ways and Means heads continue to talk over ideas for funding the Highway Trust Fund through year’s end, knowing that if they fail to find money before the end of next week, they can resort to a simple policy extension and deal with the trust fund’s balance when it starts to dip dangerously low this summer.

‘Scraps of money’: “We’re making progress,” Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch told reporters on Wednesday. “But it’s certainly tough — I’ll tell ya. They’ve spent us blind in this country, and we’ve got to find whatever scraps of money we can to pay for it. … We have to work on it. We’ll come up with it.”

Two-month patch: Some senators have said they believe this latest extension proposal will originate in the House. And over in the lower chamber, Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin suggested Democrats may be leaning toward a patch through July, to align policy expiration with funding low. “There have been discussions of pay-fors, but our main emphasis is that a two-month doesn’t need a pay-for — the end of the year would,” Levin told MT. “Our emphasis would be forcing action on a long-term plan, and we’re now taking steps to emphasize that.”

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: Today Sens. Tom Carper and Barbara Boxer are expected to unveil their plan to extend spending authority for transportation programs through July. The midsummer patch would bring the policy authority more in line with available dollars in the Highway Trust Fund. While most advocacy groups are expected to endorse the plan, it’s unlikely to catch fire on Capitol Hill now that EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe has said he’d support the December extension several other House and Senate Republicans are pushing.

Multi-year bill: Inhofe and his Democratic counterpart on the EPW committee, Barbara Boxer, are aiming for a June markup of the six-year transportation reauthorization bill they’re drafting: And although the chairman has said he will go along with a longer patch, he maintains that a two-month extension would be better for maintaining momentum in coming to agreement on just such a multi-year proposal.

T&I LEADERS KICK OFF INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK PANEL: In Rayburn this morning, House T&I leaders Bill Shuster and Peter DeFazio will open a packed panel on the correlation between infrastructure development and U.S. economic competitiveness. After the two lawmakers give their speeches, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott will join the panel discussion hosted by Squire Patton Boggs and The Council on Competitiveness:

WMATA GETS MORE — BUT STILL LESS — IN THUD: The House Appropriations Committee agreed Wednesday to provide $25 million more than it had initially laid out for WMATA in fiscal 2016, bringing the transit service’s promised allocation to $100 million, which is still $50 million short of current levels. Our Heather Caygle reports that Republicans criticized WMATA during the markup “for what they deemed significant leadership and financial failures, as evidenced by recent events including the rush-hour meltdown earlier this week and a more severe smoke incident in January that killed one person.”

CORKER RIPS FELLOW CONSERVATIVES: Outspoken southern Sen. Bob Corker didn’t mince words during a breakfast with reporters Wednesday, openly ripping his fellow conservatives for their role in transferring billions of dollars into the Highway Trust Fund over the years without offsetting most of it. Corker said the failure of lawmakers in his party to make a tough decision — either pony up more dollars for the Highway Trust Fund or reduce spending — is “incredibly responsible,” “an abdication of leadership,” and a “total failure.” Last year Corker teamed up with Democrat Chris Murphy to push a 12-cent gas tax hike, but the idea didn’t gain much traction with other lawmakers, at least publicly.

A new brand: “A definition of conservatism is now becoming spending the same amount of money but just not paying for it,” he told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday. “It’s just not the conservatism that I grew up with. It’s not the conservatism that Tennessee, as you know, embodies. We have zero road debt in Tennessee because we pay of our roads.”

NO DRONES, NOWHERE, NO HOW: Trying to ensure there will be no more feigning ignorance about the National Capital Region’s drone rules, the FAA has just announced a public outreach campaign to remind folks that the airspace in D.C. is more restricted than any other area in the country and that drones are not allowed anywhere in the city or in towns within 15 miles of DCA. More on the “No Drone Zone”:

UBER NABS TOP GOOGLE POLICY STRATEGIST: From Google to Uber goes Rachel Whetstone, who will keep her same role as senior vice president of communications and public policy. Pro’s Adam Lerner explains that Whetstone will replace David Plouffe, who joined Uber last summer after serving as a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and his 2008 campaign manager, with a stint at Bloomberg TV in between. Plouffe is moving up to become chief adviser and a board member for the ride-sharing company.

CHRISTIE CALLS FIRST TOWN HALL SINCE ‘BRIDGEGATE’ INDICTMENTS: Jonathan Topaz and Ben Schreckinger report for POLITICO’s 2016 Blast that Chris Christie will hold his first town-hall meeting today since two of his aides were indicted and his former Port Authority appointee pled guilty on charges related to the 2013 lane closures on New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge.

CUBA TRAVEL BAN SURVIVES HOUSE MARKUP: Cuban travel restrictions live on in the House’s fiscal 2016 transportation spending bill after Democrats failed Wednesday in an attempt to strip language that would bar new flight service between the U.S. and Cuba, and would restrict cruise ship service.

MT MAILBAG: A bipartisan group of nearly 70 lawmakers fired off a letter this week to House T&I leaders, asking that they reauthorize the University Transportation Center program at no less than its current stipend of $72.5 million annually. Although the letter is dated May 1, it wasn’t sent off until Wednesday:


— With robot taxi, Japan firms eye driverless transport. The Wall Street Journal:

— Frontier Airlines CEO steps down citing personal reasons. AP:

— La Guardia Airport: Fix it or shut it? The New York Times:

— Who’s responsible when a driverless car crashes? Tesla’s got an idea. The Wall Street Journal:

— Would seat belts have saved lives in Amtrak derailment? AP:

— Toyota to raise executive pay after profit surges to record. Bloomberg Business:

— Counties urge congressional action on transportation funding fix. Route Fifty:

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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