Frank N. Wilner is author of six books, including, Amtrak: Past, Present, Future; Understanding the Railway Labor Act; and, Railroad Mergers: History, Analysis, Insight. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics and labor relations from Virginia Tech. He has been assistant vice president, policy, for the Association of American Railroads; a White House appointed chief of staff at the Surface Transportation Board; and director of public relations for the United Transportation Union. He is a past president of the Association of Transportation Law Professionals.
Few obstacles bedevil railroads as has the Mississippi River. Spanning it was the nation’s first rail bridge in 1856—promptly assaulted by steamboat Effie Afton. While the bridge was repaired and more constructed, the river remains a problematic divide, separating, with few exceptions, eastern railroads from those operating in the West and producing grueling interchange bottlenecks at Chicago.
Imagine sharing with two equally qualified colleagues the decision-making authority affecting long-term railroad service quality, profitability and capital investment. Such is the power of the three Senate-confirmed members of the STB—Chairman Dan Elliott and Deb Miller, both Democrats; and Republican Ann Begeman.
Here’s a mystery for you, but don’t anticipate—as in the board game, “Clue”—that it’s “Col. Mustard, in the library, with a candlestick.” The perp here is the U.S. Senate—the deed done under the Capitol Dome and with a pen (okay, a word processor).
Syntax-challenged George W. Bush was bang-on correct in saying, “You got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in.” So it is with Positive Train Control (PTC)—a $14 billion safety overlay utilizing computers, transponders and GPS to stop or slow a train automatically before certain types of accidents occur.
In a historic first, and in a rail industry whose labor and management leadership ranks long have been dominated by Caucasian males, the first all-female Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) in the 78-year history of PEBs has been created to investigate and make recommendations in a collective bargaining dispute involving New Jersey Transit (NJT) and 16 of its rail labor unions.
Following almost six months of unemployment, and nearly a year of dining on the gristle of uncertainty, Dan Elliott is returning to the Surface Transportation Board following voice-vote Senate confirmation June 22. President Obama previously said he would rename Elliott as agency chairman upon confirmation. Fellow Democrat Deb Miller has been serving as acting chairman of the three-member STB since Jan. 1.
For more than three decades, railroad regulators have used the same method to determine which shippers are captive; and, if so, to determine a remedy to limit railroad market power and assure rates charged captive shippers are reasonable.
Violent clashes often occur at the intersection of liability, ability to pay and the law. They follow train accidents that send victims and railroads to court as adversaries.
It’s no surprise that Federal Railroad Administration Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg, a Democratic political operative—and a darn good one by all accounts—is President Obama’s choice to become the agency’s permanent chief. Politics generally determines executive branch appointments and it’s a shrewd wager the Senate will confirm her.
Dan Johnson died last week. He was 67. You probably neither knew him nor recognize his name. Yet if you are a railroader, he touched your life in meaningful ways.