Schumer caves on Gateway project allowing Senate to confirm Batory as FRA administrator

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Ronald L. Batory, Federal Railroad Administration administrator
Fred W. Frailey
WASHINGTON — The Senate's daily digest says that Ronald L Batory's confirmations to head the Federal Railroad Administration came to the floor at 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 13.

The virtual ink had barely dried before U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., was online with words of congratulation. Thune is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee that approved Batory's nomination last August.

“Even as his confirmation languished, the consensus that Ronald Batory was highly qualified to serve as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration never waned. His conformation is a win for railroad safety and I expect him to have an impact,” Thune said.

The confirmation represents a change of heart for a quartet of Democratic senators from New York and New Jersey led by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer held Batory's confirmation hostage as leverage for funding Amtrak's Gateway Program. Gateway comprises several projects on both sides of the Hudson River. The cornerstone for the program is a new tunnel into New York Penn Station from New Jersey.

In late December, President Donald Trump scrapped a non-binding commitment by President Barack Obama that the federal government would underwrite half the cost of the project.

“Given the administration’s recent budget and infrastructure proposals, it’s clear they aren’t interested in advancing the ball on Gateway, one of the nation’s most important and desperately needed infrastructure projects,” a spokesman for Schumer said in an email on Feb. 14. “Rather than wait around for the administration to come to their senses, Schumer and his colleagues will continue to work together to advance this project in the Congress.”

A Thune staff member who spoke on background said that the fatal collision between Amtrak's Silver Star and a CSX freight train on Feb. 4 near Cayce, S.C., had an indirect effect on Batory's confirmation. Thune was prepared to challenge Schumer on the Senate floor to override Schumer's effort. Thune made a similar speech on Dec. 21.

“The time for playing political games ... should be over. It is long past time that my Democrat colleagues end the obstruction,” Thune said at the time.
Thune's spokesman said that the two senators talked last week, and Thune got a “positive signal,” that Schumer would let the confirmation go forward. With infrastructure coming to the fore in Congress this year, it's likely that Schumer will continue to push for Gateway, but Thune “had not taken a position on funding the project.”

Batory's confirmation has drawn positive responses from the railroad industry.

“Ron Batory will bring a wealth of experience to the position and is well-qualified to guide the FRA through the critical work ahead of it including the oversight of positive train control implementation,” according to a prepared comment by Linda Bauer Darr, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

“[Batory] brings more than 45 years of leadership experience in the railroad industry,” Paul P. Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said in a press release. “We look forward to working with him on critical issues facing our nation's commuter rail systems.”

Skoutelas also congratulated Thelma Drake, former head of Virginia's Department of Rail and Public Transportation, on her nomination to be Federal Transit Administration Administrator.

“Ron Batory and Ray Martinez are both knowledgeable and experienced in their industries. The confirmation of these two well-qualified individuals will bring critical permanent leadership to these administrations,” according to a statement from the Department of Transportation. Martinez was confirmed to be Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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