Transportation News for May 27, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on May 27, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 5/27/2015


BACK ON THE HILL, CARPER TALKS GAS TAX: The Capitol remains largely empty today, but Sen. Tom Carper returns this afternoon to talk gas tax, kicking off a panel hosted by the Eno Center for Transportation. After the senator’s keynote speech, one of Eno’s senior fellows will discuss the center’s newest report on how President Ronald Reagan worked with Congress in the early ’80s to hike the gas tax to pay for transportation infrastructure. And former transportation secretaries Mort Downey and James Burnley will join three other panelists during a wrap-up discussion. Check it out:

AMTRAK MOVES TO MONITOR ENGINEERS: While investigators continue to study this month’s deadly train derailment to determine whether the engineer was at fault, Amtrak has decided to spend millions of dollars to equip its locomotives with inward-facing cameras to check up on those who control its trains. “The purpose is to monitor the performance of the engineers,” Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. “We’ll download and take a look at the video from time to time. It will be part of what we do, and it will certainly be available to be used for investigative purposes at a later date if something occurs.”
$9 million price tag: The rail operator is focusing first on getting the video technology installed on the majority of the trains running through the Northeast Corridor by the end of the year. Although Boardman predicted Tuesday that full installation of the technology would cost Amtrak about $6 million, the rail operator has clarified that it plans to spend about $1.5 million to first equip its 70 Cities Sprinter trains and to dole out roughly $7.5 million to install the technology on the rest of the fleet.

Blumenthal weighs in: Sen. Richard Blumenthal praised Amtrak for the decision and called on the Federal Railroad Administration to “act immediately” to mandate inward-facing cameras on trains throughout the country. “It has become crystal clear that inward-facing cameras — with the right privacy protections for employees — are a critical way to make our railroads safer.”

FRA rulemaking: FRA said Tuesday that it is currently finalizing a proposed rulemaking on the installation and use of the cameras, and Amtrak has been working with the agency on those guidelines, which the NTSB has recommended for years. But Boardman said it dawned on him over the weekend that it’s time for his company to take action. “There may be some adjustments that we have to make later down the road, but I think it’s time to do it,” he said. “And I’m doing it.”

Union concerns: The CEO acknowledged Tuesday that unions are unlikely to be “jumping up and down with joy” in celebration of the decision “because their sense of things is that they do a good job and that they’re a reliable group of people. And we understand that. But the technology is there, and I’m using the technology to ensure better safety.”

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

It’s a vacay week for our veteran transportation expert Kathryn A. Wolfe, but she just can’t help but chronicle the nation’s aviation relics in her downtime. A dispatch from Memphis:

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“Headin’ for the train … with them windshield wipers slappin’ time.”

‘FAST TRACK’ BILL WOULD QUASH TRAVEL PLANS FOR TAX DEBTORS: If the Senate’s “fast track” trade bill ever gets enacted, there will be no foreign vacations for those who owe more than $50,000 in back taxes. Pro’s Brian Faler reports that the trade measure the Senate passed over the weekend included language that would allow the government to cancel the passports of those indebted to the IRS. “The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, has said seizing passports is one way to reduce the roughly $450 billion in owed taxes that go unpaid every year. Those issued passports in 2008 owed almost $6 billion in overdue taxes, the agency said, with almost 60 percent of those debts outstanding for more than three years.” More from Pro:

DEAR FTC, HELP UBER OUT?: A libertarian think tank is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to use its antitrust powers to protect car service companies like Uber from local regulators. Nancy Scola reports that folks from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center are arguing that the FTC’s authority “may need to be utilized when its advocacy efforts fall short with regard to regulations that favor incumbents by limiting competition and entry.” More from Pro: The center’s arguments:

TAKATA REPLACEMENTS MIGHT NEED REPLACING: Because it’s still unclear exactly why Takata airbags have been exploding, moving ahead with replacing the deadly devices could mean the new airbag inflators may need their own recall, Reuters reports. “Automakers and safety regulators could take months to nail down why air bag inflators made by Takata Corp (7312.T) are exploding with too much force, meaning consumers cannot be certain replacement inflators installed … ‘If you don’t find out the root cause, who knows? We may have this same discussion again in four, five, six, seven, 10 years,’ said David Kelly, a former acting NHTSA administrator now charged with leading a consortium of 10 automakers investigating the Takata inflators.”

METRO’s NEW CARS IN QUESITON: The fate of Metro’s new rail cars hinges on what the Federal Transit Administration has to say in the coming weeks about whether Metro can retire older cars, the Washington Post reports. “The plan is to retire 192 cars of the 5000 series, which were built in the early 2000s, and replace them with the technologically superior 7000-series cars, known as 7Ks. This month, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s board of directors seemed ready to go ahead with the $431 million purchase of the 220 cars. But the older cars can’t be scrapped without the Federal Transit Administration’s approval. And the FTA has yet to announce a decision. … If the FTA determines within the next several weeks that the 5Ks should not be retired so soon, Metro probably will forgo purchasing the 220 new cars, Mortimer L. Downey, the board’s chairman, said Tuesday.”

MOVING ON UP: Airware CEO Jonathan Downey and Lockheed Martin’s legislative affairs director Lauren McCollum have been appointed to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s board of directors:


— Sinking Indonesia docks and idle ships spur $6 billion port revamp. Bloomberg Business:

— New commuter group decries proposed I-66 HOV changes. Arlington Now:

— Puerto Rican taxi driver’s final stop: His own funeral. ABC News:

— Op-ed: Members of U.S. Congress are advocating the mother of all subsidies For Delta, United and American Airlines. The Hill:

— Cheap motorbikes bring opportunity and chaos to Haiti. AP:

— U.S. travel to Cuba booming after Obama switch. Pro:

— Commuter bottleneck about to be uncorked in Northern Virginia. Washington Post:

— Tuk-tuk taxi maker aims to make inroads in US. AP:

— Singapore Air jet loses power on both engines at 39,000 feet. Bloomberg Business:

— The highway lane next to yours isn’t really moving any faster. CityLab:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 66 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 127 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 533 days.