Transportation News for June 3, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on June 3, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 6/3/2015


LAWMAKERS PLAN TO LAY INTO AMTRAK: For the first time since last month’s fatal Amtrak derailment, the head of the rail service and the federal rail chief will testify before Congress about the accident, in a hearing expected to reignite fights over Amtrak funding and investment in positive train control technology. Beyond the likely unavoidable battles between lawmakers, House T&I members are also expected to come down hard on Amtrak, questioning why the train was traveling far faster than the speed limit and why Amtrak hasn’t acted more quickly to carry out safety recommendations like the installation of inward-facing cameras for monitoring train engineers. Our Heather Caygle explains that “Amtrak has been a perennial punching bag for Congress,” and the hearing “may give lawmakers the chance to take some fresh jabs.”

Funding fight: The T&I hearing comes as the THUD spending bill that cuts Amtrak funding by nearly one-fifth is set for House floor action either this week or next. And it’s unclear if tensions have cooled some among lawmakers who clashed last month over whether to kick in more funding following the accident. The T&I panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Peter DeFazio, told MT on Monday that he certainly plans to point to the THUD funding levels during this morning’s hearing. “If Amtrak is going to be viable, you can’t continue along this route,” he told us. “This accident had a host of contributing factors, but the next one may be a bridge collapse or a major derailment because of the incredibly decrepit state of repair.” A refresher on the House Appropriations Committee’s vote to cut the rail service’s budget:
E&C QUESTIONS WHETHER TAKATA WAS SUFFICIENTLY FORTHCOMING: When the executive vice president of Takata sits before their panel this afternoon, lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are expected to grill the Japanese airbag manufacturer’s chief about why his company wasn’t more candid with Congress and federal safety officials about the issues that have led to the recall of 34 million defective airbags. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Fred Upton, told MT on Monday that the committee has looked back on Takata’s testimony from last year and found that “they were in large part not confessing when mistakes were made.” Driving back to Michigan last month, the congressman’s airbag deployed when he hit two deer, he recalled. “And the first thing I thought was ‘I’m glad it’s not a Takata.’ Consumers want airbags to work. It’s not like it’s an overnight technology. It’s been around for decades. And we want to find out what’s happening.”

The Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee will host this afternoon’s hearing: Written testimony from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind:, Testimony from Takata’s executive vice president:

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

MT is certain folks on this poor Metro bus have got no sympathy for your commuter woes this morning: So chin up if you’re letting the flood waters get you down. Thanks, @laurenfrench.

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

“Big wheel keep on turnin’”

** A message from GAMA: Every day, 1.1 million Americans work in the general aviation industry, generating $219 billion in economic output annually. These quality jobs significantly contribute to the economic vitality, health, and safety of large and small communities with products and services supporting law enforcement, medical transport, and time-efficient commerce. **

DHS REASSIGNS TSA HEAD ON HEELS OF THREAT REPORT: After news broke Monday that a covert insider team succeeded in carrying fake explosives or banned weapons through airport security during 67 of 70 tests, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that the acting head of TSA is immediately being reassigned. The secretary didn’t draw a connection between the report and the reassignment, but he was light on praise for Melvin Carraway, saying in his written statement only that he thanks the acting administrator “for his eleven years of service to TSA and his 36 years of public service to this Nation.”

Untimely switch-up: The timing of the transition is unideal since the Senate has just begun the confirmation process for Peter Neffenger — a Coast Guard admiral President Barack Obama has picked to run the TSA. The agency’s current acting deputy director, Mark Hatfield, will lead TSA until a new acting administrator is appointed, Johnson said in his statement on Monday. More from Pro’s Adam B. Lerner on the ABC News report about the agency’s failure to catch the vast majority of test threats:

Thompson’s worries: Rep. Bennie Thompson, the House Homeland Security Committee’s ranking Democrat, said Monday that he is “extremely concerned with TSA’s ability to prevent weapons from getting through security and onto planes” in light of the threat report. “The reported test results are alarming and expose problems with multiple layers of security,” he said in a written statement. “While I am pleased that Secretary Johnson acted quickly to mitigate the vulnerabilities identified by the covert tests, I remain troubled about the capabilities of the technology deployed and procedures in place.”

THUD AMENDMENT PREP BEGINS: House aides are busy crafting amendments today to offer during floor debate on the THUD spending bill, after the House Rules Committee agreed Monday night to an amendment free-for-all when the measure makes it to the floor either this week or next. Our Kathryn A. Wolfe explains that the panel signed off on allowing debate on pretty much any amendment put forth, but the committee imposed strict time limits on how long each amendment can be debated. More from Kathy:

FOXX BLAMES CONGRESS FOR CONTINUALLY ‘UNDERSHOOTING THE TARGET’: Back in town after a weeklong recess, lawmakers have just two months now to come up with the money to keep the Highway Trust Fund sufficiently filled past July. And while congressional leaders talk through their options, DOT keeps stressing the same point, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday. “We’ve been undershooting the target for so long, there’s not enough money to take care of all the maintenance under existing levels,” Foxx told reporters. “And that’s why we keep making the point: We need to raise the funding levels, give people a better system.”

Feeling the urgency: Unlike at the local level, where the consequences for failing transportation infrastructure are felt so directly, it’s harder to rally support for transportation investment in Congress, the secretary said. “I think the problem we have is the politics of transportation in Washington is so very different than they are at the local level, where things have to work. So we still have a lot of work in getting Congress in a position where they actually see the urgency and feel the urgency and they actually do something about it — and not just something, but the right something.”

Termites and wolves: Lanes on the Memorial Bridge that connects D.C. and Arlington Cemetery have been closed for days now, but politicians continue to point to the deteriorating structure as a symbol of crumbling infrastructure throughout the country. At a podium on a grassy patch on the Virginia side of the bridge, Foxx told reporters on Monday that — although the old adage has always been that governments are more likely to respond to a wolf at the front door than termites in the basement — “today, the termites are becoming the wolf.” Steel beams that support the bridge are rapidly corroding, and that one structure is “actually emblematic” of widespread underinvestment in the nation’s infrastructure, the secretary said.

Lawmakers pile on: Rep. Don Beyer, who represents Virginia suburbs outside D.C., said the Memorial Bridge “is not just the symbol — but the reality — of failed leadership.” And D.C.’s delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said it will take public outrage to spur needed transportation investment. “We need to wake the public up,” she said. “They clearly think: As long as you can get across that bridge, who cares?”

NYT MOONWALKS EPA TRUCK RULE ROLLOUT: The New York Times got everyone all revved up the other day when they reported ( that the EPA was going to propose new greenhouse gas regulations for heavy-duty trucks this week. Those rules, the Times said, would require truck fuel economy to increase up to 40 percent by 2027, compared with levels in 2010. Well, it just wasn’t meant to be…this week anyway. One of the reporters on that story, Coral Davenport, tweeted Monday: “New EPA climate change rules on truck emissions, set to come out this week, now unlikely to come out before next week.” More from Morning Energy author Darius Dixon:

PILOTS PLASTER D.C. WITH FAA REAUTHORIZATION ADS: About 200 pilots are expected to descend on D.C. this week to urge lawmakers to pass a straight-up FAA reauthorization and to stop trying to revamp aviation rules. Coinciding with the Air Line Pilots Association’s legislative summit, the group is launching an eight-week campaign with print and digital ads, radio spots, bus wraps and a social media campaign with the hashtag #FlySafeAmerica. The union wants Congress to keep current requirements for pilot training, ensure drones don’t make airspace unsafe, require secondary cockpit barriers on passenger aircraft and hand down regulations that would treat the air transport of lithium batteries as dangerous goods. ALPA’s radio ads: The print ads: and


— Pilots qualified to fly in India after just 35 minutes in air. Bloomberg Business:

— A tearful Tracy Morgan says he doesn’t remember truck accident. The New York Times:

— Hundreds missing after cruise ship sinks in the Yangtze. Bloomberg Business:

— Etihad responds to U.S. carriers’ subsidy claims in paper to U.S. government. Wall Street Journal:

— Ford shortens summer shutdown to meet demand for SUVs and pickups. Bloomberg Business:

— Phoenix suing FAA over noisy flight path changes in city. AP:

— NTSB releases first-ever video report on a plane crash. The Washington Post:

— Delta blackout makes cheap airfare game even tougher. LA Times:

— Frame shortage hampers Ford pickup truck output. Wall Street Journal:

— Pills and car accidents kill more people than plane crashes and quakes. Bloomberg Business:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 60 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 121 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 527 days.

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