Senator blasts Democratic resistance to FRA nominee

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., late Dec. 21 expressed his “deep frustration” with Democratic opposition to the confirmation of Ronald L. Batory to be head of the Federal Railroad Administration.

“Mr. Batory has over 45 years of experience in the railroad industry — in both management and operational positions — and he is a respected leader in driving organizational change and, most importantly, advancing safety improvements,” Thune said.

Thune called Batory a “highly qualified nominee [who] has been languishing in the Senate for over four months due to objections by a handful of Democrats over a parochial issue entirely unrelated to the nominee’s qualifications.”

Thune's committee on Aug. 4 unanimously approved Batory's nomination and passed it on to the Senate. Four Democratic senators from New York and New Jersey led by U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., placed the nomination on hold as a way to leverage funding for Amtrak's Hudson River tunnel and related projects.

Immediately following his speech, Thune moved for the Senate to take up Batory's confirmation. Schumer objected.

Batory has been working in Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao's office on Nov. 21 as a senior advisor on railroad policy. The agency is still under the management of Deputy Administrator Heath Hall. Thune said, “Mr. Batory’s current role at the DOT – does not have the same legal authority or ability to lead an agency, as does a Senate-confirmed Administrator.”

Thune cited the Amtrak Cascades train 501 derailment on Dec. 18, and the implementation of positive train control as principal reasons the FRA needs Batory in charge.

“While it is still early to know what, if any, impact PTC would have had on this accident, I could not agree more with the Democratic leader [Schumer] who earlier this week said 'we need positive train control,'” Thune said. “He went on to say that 'the federal Department of Transportation is not pushing federal PTC hard enough.'

“Congress has tasked the FRA administrator with providing the oversight and strong push that will be needed to ensure railroads meet next year’s Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for full PTC installation and training,” Thune said.
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