Railroads get little time at Chao confirmation hearing

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Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao speaking at a rally for her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Compared with the grilling two of her would-be Cabinet colleagues, Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions, got from other Senate committees on Wednesday, Elaine L. Chao received a warm welcome from members of the Senate Committee at her confirmation hearing to be the next secretary of the Department of Transportation.

Chao is the only one of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet appointees who has experience running an Executive Branch department. She was secretary of Labor under George W. Bush's administration. She served as deputy DOT secretary under George H.W. Bush, and also has been head of DOT's Maritime Administration and chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission.

In her opening statement Chao said the primary objective of the Transportation Department was safety in all modes. She said will work to develop Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan, and “it is important to note the significant difference between traditional program funding and other innovative financing tools, such as public-private partnerships.”

Committee members asked Chao questions about every mode of transportation, but it was apparent that the rail industry was not a top-of-mind subject. Chao got the most questions about aviation. Congress needs to pass a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization before Sept. 30. Members were also concerned about slow progress of the FAA's NextGen flight control system.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., raised the issue of Positive Train Control. He noted a number of rail accidents in the Northeast that could have been prevented by PTC, and urged Chao not to change the December 2018 deadline for compliance.

“We've seen the consequences of not having PTC,” Blumenthal. Chao said that once confirmed, she will be briefed on the status of PTC, and “look at it very seriously.”

The Commerce Committee has not set a date to vote to approve Chao's nomination.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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