Transportation News for May 4, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on May 4, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 5/4/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle, Shaun Waterman and Elana Schor

LOOKING TO BEEF UP CRUDE-BY-RAIL RULES: Now that the Obama administration’s regulations are on the table for flammable oil trains, lawmakers looking for tougher standards are weighing their options for imposing more rules through legislative action. Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on Energy and Natural Resources, says she is eyeing the upcoming passenger rail authorization bill and appropriations proposals as vehicles for more crude-by-rail mandates. Several lawmakers have criticized DOT for not getting the most dangerous tank cars off the tracks more quickly, not requiring oil companies to make their fuel less prone to explosions and not forcing the railroads to give more information to emergency responders.
A refresher on the new regulations: The rule itself:

‘Status quo’: After DOT released its rule on Friday, Cantwell called the new regulations “more of a status quo rule than the real safety changes needed to protect the public and first responders.” And she told POLITICO that, if she had her druthers, she’d “appoint a czar from the outside who knew this subject well and say ‘Make emergency recommendations and let’s get this volatility issue addressed.’” Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Chuck Schumer also joined in raising concern about the scope of the new rules.

Lawsuit time? Those in the railroad industry have been slamming the department’s decision to require tank cars carrying crude oil to use electronically controlled pneumatic brakes by 2021 if there are more than 69 of them hauling the fuel and the train is traveling more than 30 mph. The Railway Supply Institute’s Committee on Tank Cars joined in trashing the braking rules, saying that the data the group gave the administration shows that the brakes are not significantly safer during derailments compared to other systems already being used. And the freight rail industry’s major trade group says it’s not ruling out some legal challenge to the braking rules. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says, though, that he believes “strongly” that the regulations will stand up in court.

Railroad industry criticism: RSI perspective: Legal challenge consideration: Foxx’s forecast:

Oil sands exception: Noticeably absent in the regulations is language allowing older DOT-111 tank cars to be repurposed for carrying heavy Canadian oil sands. Pro’s Elana Schor explains that “the change in DOT’s regulatory reasoning came after both the oil industry and environmentalists noted that DOT-111s could not carry the heavy fuel without retrofits or additions to the tank cars.”

THIS WEEK: House lawmakers are back in their districts this week, but senators keep on toiling here in the nation’s capital. A steady hum of low-key transportation events will play out over the next few days, beginning with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s speech Tuesday at a conference downtown on road safety and a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing that day on reauthorizing surface transportation programs, which expire at month’s end.

Monday — Down in Atlanta, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International kicks off its four-day drone conference, hosted by the chief revenue officer of 3D Robotics:

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

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“We’re driving down the Interstate, you’re feeling great…” (h/t Adam Snider)


Tuesday — Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deputy David Friedman speak at a conference hosted by Safe Kids Worldwide, in celebration of the U.N.’s Global Road Safety week. Officials from the World Bank and New York City’s Department of Transportation are also set to speak. Summit agenda:

The Senate Commerce panel holds a subcommittee hearing on reauthorizing surface transportation programs:

Drone enthusiasts meet again for the Unmanned Systems conference, with talks by Google’s head of Project Wing, CNN’s senior vice president of legal and the CEO of CyPhy Works, a company that creates aerial robots. The EPA subcommittee that gives advice on vehicle air pollution and motor fuel meets to talk about the projects being carried out by the agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. The State Department’s Shipping Coordinating Committee meets in D.C. to prep for the upcoming session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee in London.

Wednesday — Rep. Frank LoBiondo will be a long way from the Jersey Shore, speaking to the drone crowd at the Unmanned Systems conference in Atlanta, along with Hugh Herr, who heads the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab.

The Senate Commerce Committee vets Daniel Elliott for his nomination to be reappointed to the STB, as well as Mario Cordero for his nomination to be reappointed to the Federal Maritime Commission: And the FAA’s Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics holds a special committee meeting on portable electronic devices.

Thursday — DOT’s chief data officer, Daniel Morgan, speaks at a FedScoop event on data innovation: The Unmanned Systems conference wraps up in Atlanta. The FAA’s Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics holds another meeting on portable electronic devices. And the Bipartisan Policy Center launches its Executive Council on Infrastructure, a group of business executives looking for ways to encourage private investment in the nation’s critical infrastructure.

MORE WARNINGS ABOUT NEXTGEN CYBERSECURITY: Our friends penning Morning Cyber ( write that “the FAA isn’t taking the cybersecurity of the air traffic control system seriously enough as it develops the $40 billion NextGen overhaul, according to a committee empaneled by the National Research Council. NextGen has come under criticism before for lack of a comprehensive cybersecurity program — most recently by the GAO in a March report. Cybersecurity ‘has not been fully integrated into the agency’s thinking’ says this NRC committee, in a Friday report. The absence of an overarching program ‘leaves doubt about the exact security capabilities that NextGen will be able to achieve,’ it adds, noting that security can’t be achieved piecemeal nor added later.” The report:

REINVIGORATING RENTAL CAR SAFETY BILLS: Lawmakers in both chambers reintroduced bills on Friday that would force rental car companies to fix vehicles that have been subject to recalls before renting or selling them. Reps. Lois Capps, Walter Jones, G.K Butterfield and Jan Schakowsky are behind that legislation in the House. And in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, Barbara Boxer and Claire McCaskill are leading the charge. Bill info:

Administration’s stance: McCaskill publicly released a letter on Friday that she got from DOT back in November stating the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s opposition to the auto industry’s legislative proposal for curbing rental cars subject to safety recalls. The letter, signed by NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman, says the proposal put forth by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers “is not a serious, comprehensive approach to redress the problem of defective rental vehicles on our nation’s roads and highways,” and that the agency is concerned the plan would make consumers believe that defects are only dangerous if manufacturers issue “do not drive” warnings. The administration instead backs the lawmakers’ proposal. The letter:

RETHINKING LITHIUM BATTERY TRANSPORT STANDARDS: The UN agency that guides international aviation policies has agreed to work on new packaging standards for lithium batteries, amid increasing concerns about shipping those batteries in airport cargo holds. Our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports that “Last week, Rep. Peter DeFazio sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx noting that FAA tests conducted show that the uncontrollable nature of lithium battery fires can overwhelm current aircraft cargo suppression systems, and ‘can lead to a catastrophic failure of the airframe.’ … At least two U.S. airlines — Delta and United — have stopped transporting lithium batteries in bulk.”

‘BRIDGEGATE’ INDICTMENT DETAILS SORDID PLOT: The indictment federal prosecutors have now released in the ‘Bridgegate’ case reads like the most fantastical of tabloid fiction, detailing text messages and emails between three of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenants, scheming and celebrating the gridlock caused by lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in 2013. The New York Times reports: “The fine-grained intricacies laid out in the legal papers show the three plotting like petulant and juvenile pranksters, using government resources, time and personnel to punish a public official whose sole offense was failing to endorse their political patron. The three were in constant contact, brazenly using government emails, their tone sometimes almost giddy. They even gave the increasingly desperate mayor of Fort Lee their own version of the silent treatment.” More from the Times: Christie ally’s guilty plea:

Christie camp responds: A Christie adviser told Playbook that “What Christie said all along — that he had no knowledge — has been borne out today. In 15 months of investigation, it remained contained to the bad actors we learned at the outset. For the team, the news isn’t necessarily positive but given what could have occurred, it’s about the best that could have been expected … It allows for us to plan for the future. … No one’s doing backflips.”

MOVING ON UP: Longtime transit consultant Jeff Boothe is launching his own firm today, branching out from his post as an equity partner at Holland and Knight. For a rundown of his experience — from his days as a Hill staffer to his latest work representing transportation clients — check out his LinkedIn:


— Boeing’s Dreamliner has a bug that can make it lose power mid-air. Gizmodo:

— Hands-free cars take wheel, and law isn’t stopping them. The New York Times:

— A solar-powered motorbike, to empower Afghans. LA Times:

— Port truck drivers strike ends in southern California. Pro:

— Oil slump tempers Bakken drillers’ worries over new rail rules. Reuters:

— Survey: States spent heavily to clear winter snow and ice. AP:

— Pilots brace for 5-day solar-powered flight from China to Hawaii. McClatchy:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 27 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 149 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 555 days.

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