FRA has a pretty busy year or two or ten ahead of itself. It will have to grapple with (most) railroads' failure to comply with the December 31, 2015 due date for PTC installation. That alone is enough to consume most of the agency's time and energy.
Sooner, and hopefully sooner than later, FRA will have to propose a rule on medical standards, regardless of the objections of the unions and the risk that railroad management may abuse the application of these standards. After all, FRA faced similar objections, and the prospect of similar abuse, when it imposed mandatory and random alcohol and drug testing. Sooner is better, before another "impaired" employee blows a stop signal or a speed requirement, kills himself/herself and others and we replay this miserable tape one more time.
We got PTC, medical standards, fatigue management, system safety/risk analysis, hazardous materials restrictions, train crew size, inward and outward recording devices, training standards, rail integrity, track standards, remote control locomotive operations, bridge inspections, etc. etc. -- and of course the "open" recommendations from the ever-friendly, soft-spoken friends of FRA over at NTSB and their supporters in the US Senate. "Rogue agency," anyone?
So...so long Joe (Szabo, that is). I understand why you're leaving, and I wish you well in your future endeavors in Chicago. That Joe Szabo left FRA in January for Chicago, preferring winter in Chicago, might be an indication of how difficult things have become at FRA.
Maybe not, maybe it's a coincidence, but I've been in Chicago in January.
Q: Ever wonder what a cold day in hell is?
A: Chicago, in January. And February
So long Joe and say hello to... Sarah Feinberg. Ms. Feinberg has been selected by US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx as the acting administrator of FRA. Prior to her selction, Ms. Feinberg joined the US Department of Transportation as Mr. Foxx's chief of staff.
Before that, Ms. Feinberg was director of corporate and strategic communications for Facebook. Before that, she was director of communications and business strategy for Bloomberg Limited Partners.
Prior to that, Ms. Feinberg was senior advisor to then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (now Mayor of Chicago). Prior to that she was communications director of the House Democratic Caucus, press secretary at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and national press secretary to ex-senator Tom Daschle.
You know, astute and capable politicians like to point out the "message" they send when they announce support for legislation; when they endorse othe politicians; when they appoint individuals to government positions.
Here are the messages I received from Secretary Foxx via this appointment:
1. There is no one currently capable at FRA of discharging the responsibilities of a deputy-administrator, as the duties of a deputy-administrator include acting for, on behalf of, and as adminstrator in limited areas, or in general for a limited time. This is, after all, a temporary appointment to an acting position.
2. Despite the fact that FRA has just been strongly criticized-- check that, FRA has been keel-hauled, drop-kicked, and basically spat at regarding its competence, ability, willingness, integrity, responsibility, interest, and desire to ensure the safety of the rail network, appointing a person with a record of experience and success in railroad operating safety as acting administrator is not important to the functioning of the agency.
I know, I'm being hasty, fossilized, prejudiced. It doesn't matter. We're talking about the message being sent, right? What politicians, like Mr. Foxx, do, right?
I hardly know Ms. Feinberg. I agree. Actually I don't know her at all. That's the point. I don't need to know her. I'm in the industry. I need to know her experience in the industry.
You have to know the business to regulate it.
We're not looking for, nor in need, of an "expert communicator." The challenges facing safe train operations are not problems in communication.
This is about delivering the product, in all senses of the words.
Of course none of this is the "fault" of Ms. Feinberg. But Mr. Foxx has made it her responsibility. Good luck, Ms. Feinberg. Dress warmly. Things could be worse. You could be working as a brakeman in Chicago, with the temperature at -11 F, riding the point on a cut of cars as the locomotive shoves the train to the air spot.
January 14, 2015
"The theory that all negligence which causes serious disaster will always be found to have been more or less habitual is still worthy of respect"--
Railway Gazette, Vol 21, 1889 (with thanks to PN)