Posts Tagged ‘Trump administration’

Trump Moving Slowly to Fill Regulatory Agencies

November 9, 2017

An analysis by Railway Age magazine found that the Trump administration’s efforts to reshape the three regularly agencies of greatest importance to the railroad industry is far from complete.

The agencies involved are the National Mediation Board, Federal Railroad Administration and Surface Transportation Board.

Most changes at the National Mediation Board have been completed with two new Republican members and a renominated Democratic member set to take office.

Nominations at the other two agencies are moving far more slowly.

President Trump named Ronald L. Batory on July 11 to head the FRA and he received a unanimous endorsement from the Senate Commerce Committee on Aug. 2.

However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has placed a hold on the nomination as leverage on Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to release up to $15 billion in matching federal grants and loans for the Gateway Project, including new rail tunnels under the Hudson River linking New Jersey with Manhattan, and renovation of the Farley Post Office building into a new Penn Station.

Trump has shown no interest thus far in releasing those funds.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) is reported to want to broker a deal to break the political standoff over the FRA head.

The Commerce Committee has primary oversight of the DOT and its agencies, including the FRA.

At the STB, the Trump administration has yet to name two appointees to two new seats or to fill a vacancy created by the Sept. 30 resignation of STB member Dan Elliott.

The STB is authorized to have five members and the administration has not explained why it has delayed filling the seats.

The STB has just two members, Republican Acting Chairman Ann Begeman and Democrat Deb Miller.

Miller’s term expires on Dec. 31, but federal law allows a one-year holdover absent confirmation of a successor or her renomination and reconfirmation to a second term.

Miller told Railway Age Nov. 2 that she has not made a decision whether to seek renomination. Begeman is serving a second term that expires Dec. 31, 2020.

Railway Age said it has learned that the administration has interviewed two finalists for vacant Republican seats on the STB, including Senate Commerce Committee legislative aide Patrick Fuchs and career railroad consultant and lobbyist Keith Hartwell.

Although Elliot’s is a Democratic seat, the administration could by law leave it open and fill the other two seats with Republicans to give the STB a 3-1 Republican majority. Or Trump could fill Elliott’s seat with a Republican, which would give the STB a 2-1 GOP majority.

However, Railway Age suggested that Senate Democrats might seek to block any Republican nominees unless a nominee is named for the vacant Democratic seat.

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Trump Might Support 7-cent Gas Tax Hike

October 31, 2017

The Trump administration might seek an increase in the federal gasoline tax as a way of paying for a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure program.

That point was made by Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn during a private meeting with House lawmakers last week.

The proposed 7-cent increase would be used to fund public work projects, such as railways, roads, waterways and bridges.

Trump had said earlier this year during an interview with Bloomberg News that he was open to a gas tax increase. The last gasoline tax increase came in 1993.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said there is little interest in a gas tax hike now, but that committee members might support one if the White House gets involved and supports the increase.

Although the Trump infrastructure plan has received widespread attention, the administration has yet to reveal any hard details about it.

Some Doubt Private Investment Will Help Rails

October 7, 2017

Private sector investment in railroad projects is unlikely, a congressional committee was told this week.

The comments were made at hearing held by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on rail infrastructure on a proposed Trump administration infrastructure renewal plan.

The Trump plan would rely on private investment as well as public funding.

The witnesses at the hearing said that the federal and state governments can be expected to play a role in sustaining and expanding the nation’s rail network, but the private sector is unlikely to be much of a player when it comes to railroad investment.

“What you’re talking about clearly goes beyond what the private sector at this point is prepared to do,” said Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads.

In particular, Hamberger referenced the capital needs of Amtrak. The carrier’s co-CEO, Charles “Wick” Moorman had told the committee that the critical, huge infrastructure projects that Amtrak faces will require federal investment.

Without that, Moorman said, the system runs out. “We can do a lot of work on state of good repair, we can improve the way we spend money, but it’s going to take a lot of federal investment,” he said.

“I think Mr. Moorman’s needs go far beyond what the private sector can do,” Hamberger said.

One news report said that Democrats on the subcommittee pushed for public funding of intrastructure projects while Republicans members remained silent about that.

Even President Trump has reportedly expressed doubt about the scope of the private sector’s role in infrastructure rebuilding.

Trump reported said during a closed meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee that public-private partnerships were not the solution for repairing the nation’s roads, bridges, and ports.

The Trump administration has been talking investing $200 billion in federal fund to leverage $800 billion of private investment. However, details about that plan have yet to be announced.

“I understand that the private sector has a role, the states have a role, but I think the federal government has to have a bigger role,” said U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. “Without the support of the federal government, I don’t think these projects can be done. Does anyone here believe that the private sector is the sole answer to this? If you do, please tell me, because I don’t believe this.”

DOT Taking TIGER Grant Applications

September 8, 2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation is taking applications for its TIGER grant program.

The program has $500 million set aside that will be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that have a significant impact on the United States, a metropolitan area or a region.

Federal legislation recently approved by Congress mandates that TIGER grants must be between $5 million and $25 million with the minimum for rural areas set at $1 million.

The selection criteria remain about the same as in previous years, DOT officials said.

However, the 2017 TIGER program will afford special consideration to projects that emphasize improved access to transportation for rural communities.

TIGER applications are due Oct. 16. DOT will hold webinars on Sept. 13 and Sept. 19 to provide technical assistance for grant applicants.

Since the TIGER program was established in 2009, DOT has awarded $5.1 billion for capital investments in surface transportation programs.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed ending the TIGER program in the fiscal year 2018 budget.

Infrastructure Plan May be 3 Smaller Plans

September 5, 2017

The Trump Administration has signaled that it plans to break up its $1 trillion infrastructure plan into three components.

White House director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said last week during a conference of state transportation officials that most funding will be offered to projects that currently have private or local money secured.

However, the administration has suggested it will focus on a less ambitious $200 billion infrastructure plan, as opposed to the $1 trillion that President Trump campaigned on.

Details of the infrastructure plan have yet to be released, which has led some transportation officials to fear that the funding will be spread too thin and fails to provide adequate resources for projects.

Transportation officials have noted that the administration has said that its plan will cover a wide range of investments, including roads and bridges, broadband, energy, and veterans hospitals.

Some universities are seeking to have research labs included in the rebuilding effort.

Administration to Talk Infrastructure with DOTs

August 29, 2017

The Trump administration will meet this week with officials from state departments of transportation to discuss the administration’s ideas for infrastructure investment.

The invitation to participate said the event’s purpose “will be to underscore the need for a different approach, outline our draft guiding principles, and allow you all to brainstorm actions to help carry this conversation on the need for change and the opportunity to empower state and local leaders back to your states and communities.”

Attending the meeting will be Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and members of the President’s National Economic Council, and special assistant to the president for infrastructure D.J. Gribbin.

President Trump has proposed $200 billion of direct federal infrastructure spending over 10 years, with the goal of using it to leverage an additional $800 billion in state, local and private investment. However, the administration has yet to release a formal plan.

Infrastructure Council Terminated

August 21, 2017

The Trump Administration has dropped its plans to create an Advisory Council on Infrastructure.

The council was proposed to help provide guidance on spending for a multi-billion dollar program to improve roads, bridges and other public works.

Membership of the council would have included 15 members from real estate, finance, labor and other sectors.

Termination of the infrastructure council followed the disbanding of two other advisory groups to guide U.S. manufacturing and policies.

In the meantime, President Donald Trump has released a plan that is designed to alleviate the length of time it takes to get federal approval for projects. Trump issued an executive order that will:

  • Establish “one Federal decision” for major infrastructure projects to proceed.
  • Set a two-year goal for completing reviews.
  • Set up a “quarterly scorecard” to hold agencies accountable for delays.
  • Reduce duplicative requests for information and late-stage changes in the approval process.

Senators Express Dismay Over Proposed DOT Budget Cuts

July 18, 2017

Although members of a Senate committee are displeased with the Trump administration’s proposed cuts of the U.S. Department of Transportation budget for fiscal year 2018, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was unmoved during a hearing held last week.

Trump has proposed slashing the DOT budget by $2.4 million. If Congress adopts the administration’s budget proposal, the DOT budget would fall from $18.6 billion to $16.2 billion with major cuts made from the hide of Amtrak and various transportation grant programs.

The budget proposal received a hearing from the Senate Appropriations Committee where some members spoke out in favor of keeping Amtrak as it is now.

“With regard to Amtrak, I am concerned about the impact that elimination of long-distance service would have on shared infrastructure with state-supported routes, such as the Downeaster in Maine,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation.

“Long distance routes contribute in part to the capital expenditures for the Northeast Corridor,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the subcommittee. “That’s something of concern to many of us on the committee”

In response to a question asked by Reed as to whether DOT would be able to focus additional resources on the capital infrastructure needs of the Northeast Corridor, Chao said the Northeast Corridor is the only Amtrak route able to sustain itself and that DOT is working closely with Amtrak and local and state authorities in that region.

However, Chao said there is no money available for the Northeast Corridor except what’s in the president’s budget.

In response to a question asked by another senator, Chao suggested that finding more funding for Northeast Corridor repairs is Amtrak’s problem, not DOT’s

“These are repairs which have been delayed and the maintenance requirements are immense,” she said. “There has to be some way of looking at all these repairs, strategically figuring out [how] best to prioritize these repairs, have a program, and then execute [it].

“Amtrak has a new president, and I am very hopeful the president and the board will be able to address some of these issues.”

The Trump administration has proposed diverting money used to pay for Amtrak’s long-distance routes into funding NEC infrastructure work.

Some funding for Northeast Corridor capital projects would come from transit and commuter rail projects under the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program.

Amtrak is relying on a Capital Investment Program grant to finance some costs of building a new tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

At the same time, the administration has proposed ending the TIGER grant program, which is used to help fund rail capital projects nationwide, including those that benefit intercity passenger rail.

Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., expressed concern that cuts in funding for Amtrak intercity service would increase congestion on the highways.

As Chao sees it, though, ending funding of long-distance passenger trains would enable Amtrak to focus its resources on what she termed its most vibrant component.

Heath Hall Named to FRA Post

June 28, 2017

Heath Hall has been named deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administrator.

Hall, whose position does not need Senate confirmation, was named by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who has known him since his days working in the deputy DOT secretary’s office and in the Peace Corps.

Now a vice president in the marketing and external affairs department of non-profit Innovate Mississippi, Hall also manages Pointe Innovation magazine.

He has served as senior vice president of external affairs at the Mississippi Economic Council, the State Chamber of Commerce, and as executive director of Mississippians for Civil Justice Reform/STOP Lawsuit Abuse in Mississippi.

Hall also served as Gov. Kirk Fordice’s director of public affairs, deputy press secretary, and deputy director of communications for Fordice’s re-election campaign.

In federal government service, Hall served as an FRA intern in the public relations office before moving into the USDOT deputy secretary’s office.

During the administration of George H.W. Bush, Hall served as an intern in the White House Office of Political Affairs.

The FRA is still without a permanent administrator. Patrick T. Warren, the FRA’s executive director, is serving as acting administrator.

Railway Age magazine reported that an administrator is unlikely to be appointed before August and that the agency is without an official mandate from the Trump Administration.

Moorman Stumps to Save Long-Distance Trains

June 14, 2017

Amtrak President Charles “Wick” Moorman recently told Congress that eliminating funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains in the federal fiscal year 2018 budget would cost more money than it would save.

Moorman

In a letter that accompanied Amtrak’s budget, Moorman said ending the funding would cost $423 million more than keeping it.

“The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation proposes the elimination of Federal funding for Amtrak’s long distance services. Enactment of such a proposal would drastically shrink the scope of our network, could cause major disruptions in existing services, and increase costs for the remaining services across the Amtrak system,” Moorman wrote. “Amtrak’s initial projection is that eliminating long distance services would result in an additional cost of $423 million in FY 2018 alone, requiring more funding from Congress and our partners rather than less.”

The letter sought to highlight Amtrak’s successes last year.

“Amtrak reported strong audited financial results for the fiscal year which ended on Sep. 30, 2016, including an all-time ticket revenue record of $2.14 billion,” Moorman said. “The increased ticket revenue was fueled by a record 31.3 million passengers on America’s Railroad – nearly 400,000 more than the previous year. This is the sixth straight year Amtrak carried more than 30 million customers.

“The company covered 94 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 92 percent the year before – a world-class performance for a passenger-carrying railroad. Thanks in part to our strong performance, Amtrak was also able to make a net reduction in long-term debt of $69.2 million.”

As for Amtrak’s ongoing needs, Moorman said Amtrak needs funding to replace movable bridges that are more than 100 years old and money to pay for a backlog of crucial state-of-good-repair work in the Northeast Corridor estimated to cost $38 billion to complete.

Moorman said the Superliner equipment used by Amtrak’s long-distance trains averages more than 200,000 miles per car, per year, and the age of the fleet is nearly 40 years.