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.
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.
Poor Mr. Dooley—Calvin, that is, president of the American Chemistry Council and not the fictional Mr. Dooley created during the late 19th century by humorist Finley Peter Dunne. The latter gained library space in Teddy Roosevelt’s White House; the former seemed to hoist himself by his own petard—Shakespeare speak (“Hamlet”) for the bomb maker managing to blow himself up with his own device.
Successful baseball pitchers learn to throw first-pitch strikes and stay aggressive in the strike zone when their team is in the lead. Life imitates baseball, meaning railroad spokespersons will serve their industry well over the next 10 weeks if they similarly perform—first before a congressional subcommittee examining 35 years of partial economic deregulation under the Staggers Rail Act, and then the Surface Transportation Board (STB) as it considers shipper entreaties that the railroads’ improved financial condition warrants tightening of the strike zone.
American Financial Group's 18-year quest to turn hopelessly unprofitable Amtrak into a gold-coin spewing piñata appears to have met its Waterloo in an emphatic all caps "CASE CLOSED" order of a federal court Feb. 23.
Proving once again he has more lives than cartoon character Wile E. Coyote, former Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Dan Elliott is poised to receive his second White House renomination. The first renomination expired with adjournment of the 113th Congress in December after the Senate failed to confirm him. A formal announcement of the second renomination will be made this week.
As the White House considers candidates for Senate confirmation as the next Federal Railroad Administrator, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says he will name his Department of Transportation chief of staff Sarah Feinberg — a long-time Democratic operative with strong White House ties — as acting administrator upon the voluntary departure this week of FRA chief Joe Szabo.
News item: Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Dan Elliott was forced to bid adieu Dec. 31, 2014, after the Senate failed to confirm his renomination. President Obama still could make a recess appointment prior to a Republican controlled Senate sworn-in Jan. 6.
Unraveling the knot restricting rail network fluidity cannot be achieved through Surface Transportation Board (STB) intimidation of rail CEOs, or by the agency's issuance of an emergency service order instructing one railroad to operate over the tracks of another, or by merging the nation's seven major rail systems into a North American duopoly.
"Tawdry," is how one Washington transportation attorney describes the self-interest assaults by powerful congressional lawmakers on federal regulatory agency officials.
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) ruled Sept. 2 that five Class I railroads—BNSF, U.S. affiliates of Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific—are revenue adequate. That is, they achieved a rate of return on investments used to provide railroad service that is at least equal to the average cost of that investment capital.
News item: Vouchsafed to work jointly in gaining legislation or regulation mandating two crew members on every freight train are the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union (SMART) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
Moving homogeneous electrons through wires, or freight in trucks over publicly financed highways, is hardly akin to moving cargo over privately owned and maintained railroads.
A recurring and intractable thread tying together railroad history is that when the choice has been between economic liberty and government intrusion, selecting the latter has repetitively discouraged capital investment, diminished service quality, adversely affected safety, and sooner than later caused hand-wringing among those most dependent on rail transportation.
This is about a highway homicide — and we know who dunnit. The perp long ago was identified by state and federal authorities. Yet Congress refuses to order the collar, closing its eyes to a mayhem playing out at every hour, on every federal-aid roadway and adversely affecting every taxpayer and every motorist in the wallet, while simultaneously turning on its head the concept of economic efficiency.
That President Obama mentioned not a word on high speed rail or Amtrak in his State of the Union speech reflects on the rather dreadful manner in which his administration has pursued the presidential vision in support of expanded rail passenger service.
Don’t assume, based on headlines, an obituary for high speed rail just yet. A more accurate analogy is an induced coma brought on by poor planning and implementation amidst an increased necessity to pare federal deficits.