Batory discusses a range of FRA safety issues with Senate committee

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WASHINGTON — Ronald L. Batory on July 26 left a Senate panel with little doubt he was qualified to be administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. The Trump administration is placing Batory at the head of the railroad industry's federal regulator less than five months after he retired as chief executive of Conrail.

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee inquired about a range of high-profile issues, from grade crossing safety to the use of sound data in the making of technical rules during a hearing on Batory's nomination.

Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., started with questions about positive train control and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.

Thune asked what were Batory's plans for ensuring the railroad industry met the December 2018 deadline for full PTC implementation. Batory responded that the FRA would take steps if it found any carrier was not making sufficient progress in putting PTC in place.

“I think there's an opportunity within the railroad industry for collaboration” between freight carriers and commuter lines that shared their right of way, Batory said. “I will give this committee my absolute commitment of working as hard as I can to make sure that there is no fluff come Dec. 31, 2018.”

In 2016, the Government Accountability Office criticized the FRA for relying on questionable data and modeling techniques to back up an electronic air brake regulation. The issue was turned over to the Transportation Research Board for review.

“I and many of our colleagues have been troubled by some of the agency's responses to legitimate critiques and suggestions," Thune asked Batory. "Are you going to incorporate these findings and best available data?”

Batory said he was aware of ECP brake technology since the 1990s.

“It has matured considerably over the past 20-plus years If confirmed, I'm looking forward to learning more about what has been developed and what avenues we have to follow – if any – to allow these trains to operate safely. I have to learn more about the subject as it has developed within the FRA.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., ranking member of the committee, was the first of several lawmakers who asked about grade crossing safety and noise.

Batory said he has been a “strong proponent of good rail highway crossing safety” ever since he was aboard a train that struck a school bus loaded with children. There were no injuries, but he said the agency and industry must continue to innovate and “the best engineering we can come up with, and continuous education that can never stop.”

Batory demurred when several senators, mostly Democrats, asked about funding the Department of Transportation TIGER grants and Amtrak. The administration's 2017 budget zeroes out the popular TIGER program and provides no funding for Amtrak's long-distance trains.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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