As the 2018 federal deadline looms for Positive Train Control, or PTC, the rail industry continues spending millions on lobbyists on Capitol Hill to persuade lawmakers to delay and weaken the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act, which amounts to a $15-billion dollar investment for railroad companies.
The federal law requires most U.S. rail operators to implement PTC, which is GPS technology designed to provide backup control in the event of human failure. The National Transportation Safety Board says PTC could’ve prevented the 2015 Amtrk train derailment that killed eight people, and the 2008 Chatsworth Metrolink crash.
Key access by some of the most effective lobbyists on Capitol Hill, including several dozen who were once lawmakers or staffers in Congress, are helping the railroad industry delay and dilute rail-safety rules. So much so that engineers have complained about the influence of the train industry over rail safety issues.
Award-winning news team, The Interception posted a blog in 2015 with the following excerpt. It includes names of prominent figures that railroad executives have hired to influence members of Congress:
“Lobbying and other government records show the rail industry extensively sought to influence the Federal Railroad Administration and Congress on the PTC rules. Individual rail companies, including Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, CSX, Canada National Railway Company, among others, hired a small army of lobbyists.
But the largest and most prominent lobbying group to work to delay and weaken the PTC rule was the American Association of Railroads, which employed a veritable who’s who of D.C. consultants and lobbyists, including:
— Linda Daschle, the wife of former Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle, was paid to lobby on the PTC on behalf of the Association of American Railroads.
— The bipartisan lobbying duo of Max Sandlin and Vin Weber, both former congressmen, are registered with the American Association of Railroads to lobby on the PTC. Weber, an advisor to Jeb Bush, is also on the board of the American Action Network, a GOP dark money group that spends millions on election campaigns.
— Another bipartisan lobbying team, including former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., is registered to lobby on behalf of the American Association of Railroads on PTC.
— The tax returns for the American Association of Railroads lists SKDKnickerbocker as a consultant for public relations and advertising throughout 2011 and 2012. SKDK is a public affairs firm led by senior Democratic staffers including former White House communications director Anita Dunn and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen. SKDK did not return a call requesting information about what services the firm provided for AAR, or if they continue to count AAR as a client.
— Former National Transportation Safety Board Kathryn Higgins was registered on behalf of AAR to lobby on the PTC.
— Former Rep. William Lipinski, D-Ill., was registered on behalf of the AAR to lobby on PTC. Lipinski’s son Dan is now a member of Congress who serves on the House Transportation Committee.”
You can share memories, or leave comments for those killed in the 2008 Metrolink Chatsworth crash on the Los Angeles Time website.