Monday, June 03, 2013

Obituary: Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, 89

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U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), an ardent passenger rail champion who first was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1982, died Monday, June 3, 2013, at the age of 89.

Lautenberg repeatedly defended Amtrak throughout his Senate career, often playing a leading role during the 1980s as several attempts were made to eliminate any federal appropriations funding for Amtrak. He also routinely and staunchly supported public transit expansion and funding.

Nor was his work on rail limited to passenger matters. In a statement Monday, Association of American Railroads President Edward  R. Hamberger praised Lautenberg as "a true leader on rail transportation issues on Capitol Hill," adding that Lautenberg "understood our nation’s interdependent intermodal supply chain and how important it is to America’s economy." Hamberger noted Lautenberg "supported legislative and regulatory initiatives that ensure private freight rail investments continue to help spur rail-intermodal growth, taking trucks off our nation’s already overburdened highways and lowering the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions."

Lautenberg retired from the Senate in 2001, but returned to the Senate in 2003 following a scandal involving Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) in 2002 that prompted Torricelli to withdraw from seeking re-election to his Senate seat. In an odd twist, Lautenberg's election in late 2002 made him New Jersey's junior U.S. Senator, behind Sen. Robert Menendez (D).

Prior to this return to the Senate, New Jersey Transit Corp. chose to honor Lautenberg by naming its Secaucus rail station on the Northeast Corridor after him. The station serves almost every NJT rail line in northern New Jersey, acting as a major transfer hub.

In recent years, Lautenberg frustrated New Jersey rail advocates questioning the wisdom of Access to the Region’s Core (ARC), a plan advanced to NJ Transit to build a six-mile, stub-end railroad line parallel to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) , but separate from it, to increase rail capacity under the Hudson River.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie scuttled the ARC plan in the fall of 2010, but Lautenberg then helped introduce Amtrak’s current plan to increase NEC capacity under the Hudson River in February 2011. Last week Lautenberg was one of a trio of officials announcing funding for a key component of the Gateway proposal.

Lautenberg, a World War II veteran, was chairman and CEO of Automatic Data Processing, Inc. before entering politics.