Posts Tagged ‘Joe Szabo’

SMART TD joins in mourning John Harold Burner, former assistant director in Illinois

John Harold Burner, 75, of Robinson, Ill., a former assistant state director for the United Transportation Union, died at 10:50 p.m. Oct. 22, 2017 at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Ind. He was born April 21, 1942, the son of Harold & Edith (Comer) Burner, both of whom preceded him in death. John Harold Burner

“John was more than an assistant director, he was a true partner when it came to representing rail workers in Illinois,” said Joe Szabo, a former Federal Railroad Administrator who also served as legislative director for the union in Illinois. “His ‘country boy’ manner resonated with members of the Illinois General Assembly, and he was trusted by both Republicans and Democrats. Together we accomplished a lot, and I owe John so much – as does every rail worker in this state. ”

SMART TD Legislative Director for Illinois Bob Guy also said that rail workers in his state are better off because of Burner’s efforts.

“The list of issues and topics that John worked on over the years is far too large to describe, but rest assured that our members are better off today for having John Burner representing us, I know I am,” Guy said. “So on behalf of all of our Illinois members, active and retired, I want to thank John for his service to our union, and I want to especially thank his wife Shirley and the rest of the Burner family for sharing him with us all those many years.

“We owe you, John — you won’t soon be forgotten, rest in peace my friend.”

John was a 1960 graduate of Palestine High School, and went on to further his education at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill. In 1962, he started working as an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad, where he worked for 34 years before becoming assistant state director for UTU. He retired in 2008, and was a man who truly enjoyed his work, as anyone who knew him could attest.

Burner married Shirley Kay Corder on July 28, 1963, and she survives. He is also survived by his son & daughter-in-law, John S. & Kirsten Burner (Ventura, Calif.); by his daughter & son-in-law, Tammy & B.J. Fralicker (Palestine, Ill.); and by his grandchildren, Nick Halterman (Robinson, Ill.), Kiara Fralicker (Palestine, Ill.), and Sophia Burner (Ventura, Calif.); as well as a number of nieces and nephews.

In his free time, John could often be found on the water. In his younger days, he enjoyed water skiing. As he grew older, skiing turned to fishing, and this brought him so much joy through the years. He was also very active locally with the Boy Scouts. A former Eagle Scout, John was instrumental in starting the scout camp north of Palestine years ago. He was also active with girls’ softball for many years. Though John was many things to many people, he was first and foremost a family man. No one could doubt the love he had for his wife, children, and grandchildren, who have lost a friend, partner and patriarch.

John was a member of the Crawford County Bass Club and the Palestine High School Alumni Reunion Committee.

Visitation will be 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26 at Goodwine Funeral Home in Palestine, Ill. Funeral services will be 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 27 at the funeral home, with burial following in Palestine Cemetery. Celebrant Curt Goodwine will be officiating the service.

Memorials may be made to the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis.

Can ECP brakes stop train disasters in suburbs?

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CHICAGO – As a former railroad brakeman, the region’s top planner Joe Szabo knows how to stop a train.

So it’s significant he backs a controversial new federal rule requiring freight railroads to install electronic braking systems on trains carrying crude oil and ethanol.

Shiploads of volatile fuel are increasing in the Chicago region with about 40 crude oil trains a week, data that concerns suburban mayors and fire departments wary of a worst-case scenario.

Read more from the Daily Herald.

Szabo Stepping Down as Head of FRA

After nearly six years serving as chief of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration, Joe Szabo is stepping down in January.

In a statement to FRA staff, Szabo said, “I will head home to accept a position as a senior fellow for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. In my new capacity, I’ll work with the region’s local elected officials, the Illinois General Assembly, the freight and passenger rail industry, organized labor, and logistic firms, and other metropolitan regions on transportation planning and programming.

“It is a role that allows me to return to my roots in local government, to serve as a senior advisor on transportation policy, and – from Chicago – continue to advance the safe, efficient, and reliable movement of people and goods for a strong America, just like we’ve done together here at FRA.”

“It has been an honor to serve my President, former Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary Anthony Foxx.”

Nominated March 20, 2009, and confirmed by the United States Senate on April 29, 2009, Szabo is the twelfth Administrator of the FRA and the first to come from the ranks of rail workers.

Prior to becoming FRA administrator, Szabo served as the former United Transportation Union’s Illinois state legislative director.

He also served as vice president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, mayor of Riverdale, Ill., and vice chairman of the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s Executive Committee. In 2002, he chaired the governor’s Freight Rail Sub-Committee and, in 2005, was assigned by the UTU to the FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), where he participated in the development of rail-safety regulations.

As FRA administrator, he is the principal advisor to the secretary of the U.S. DOT on railroad affairs and other transportation matters, where he helped set freight and passenger rail policy and safety regulations and initiatives.

“Our work is not done until new record bests in safety are achieved,” Szabo said in his statement. “As a 38-year veteran of the rail industry – one who worked out in the ranks – the most meaningful improvement to me was the dramatic drop in employee fatalities to a new record low. Over the course of my railroad career, I’ve lost five good friends to on-duty fatalities and, like most rail workers, survived my share of close calls in the workplace.”

“In 2008, the year before I came to FRA, 26 rail workers perished in on duty fatalities – a rate of more than two per month. Through your good work, we drove that down to a record low number of 14 employee fatalities in 2013 – still too many, but a remarkable improvement. Now, 10 months into 2014, we are at five fatalities for the year and getting so close to the ultimate goal of zero. I’m counting on the practices we’ve put into place, particularly proactive programs like Confidential Close Calls Reporting, to get us to zero in 2015.”

Szabo stepping down as head of FRA

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Szabo

After nearly six years serving as chief of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration, Joe Szabo is stepping down in January.

In a statement to FRA staff, Szabo said, “I will head home to accept a position as a senior fellow for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. In my new capacity, I’ll work with the region’s local elected officials, the Illinois General Assembly, the freight and passenger rail industry, organized labor, and logistic firms, and other metropolitan regions on transportation planning and programming.

“It is a role that allows me to return to my roots in local government, to serve as a senior advisor on transportation policy, and – from Chicago – continue to advance the safe, efficient, and reliable movement of people and goods for a strong America, just like we’ve done together here at FRA.”

“It has been an honor to serve my President, former Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary Anthony Foxx.”

Nominated March 20, 2009, and confirmed by the United States Senate on April 29, 2009, Szabo is the twelfth Administrator of the FRA and the first to come from the ranks of rail workers.

Prior to becoming FRA administrator, Szabo served as the former United Transportation Union’s Illinois state legislative director.

He also served as vice president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, mayor of Riverdale, Ill., and vice chairman of the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s Executive Committee. In 2002, he chaired the governor’s Freight Rail Sub-Committee and, in 2005, was assigned by the UTU to the FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), where he participated in the development of rail-safety regulations.

As FRA administrator, he is the principal advisor to the secretary of the U.S. DOT on railroad affairs and other transportation matters, where he helped set freight and passenger rail policy and safety regulations and initiatives.

“Our work is not done until new record bests in safety are achieved,” Szabo said in his statement. “As a 38-year veteran of the rail industry – one who worked out in the ranks – the most meaningful improvement to me was the dramatic drop in employee fatalities to a new record low. Over the course of my railroad career, I’ve lost five good friends to on-duty fatalities and, like most rail workers, survived my share of close calls in the workplace.”

“In 2008, the year before I came to FRA, 26 rail workers perished in on duty fatalities – a rate of more than two per month. Through your good work, we drove that down to a record low number of 14 employee fatalities in 2013 – still too many, but a remarkable improvement. Now, 10 months into 2014, we are at five fatalities for the year and getting so close to the ultimate goal of zero. I’m counting on the practices we’ve put into place, particularly proactive programs like Confidential Close Calls Reporting, to get us to zero in 2015.”

 

FRA's Szabo addresses SMART Convention delegates

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Szabo

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo spoke to attendees at the First Transportation Division Convention of the International Association of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers in San Diego, Calif., July 1, 2014. His speech, as prepared, is below.

Good morning, everyone. It is great to be here with you today.

I am joined by Bob Lauby, FRA’s Chief Safety Officer, and Mike Lange, our chief track inspector here in California. I’d like to acknowledge all of our inspectors at FRA for the tremendous job they do every day to keep all of you safe, and to achieve higher levels of safety.

I know I say this every time I see you all of you: But five years into this job, I still am incredibly humbled to be the first FRA Administrator to have come out of the ranks of rail labor.

A while back, I was looking at some old safety statistics from 1967, the year the Federal Railroad Administration was formed. And what I saw – back then in 1967 – a rail worker was killed on the job nearly every other day.

Think about that: nearly one employee on-duty fatality every other day.

People with families. People who worked hard every day to move this nation’s freight and economy, and get travelers to jobs and other places. People like us – one of them not going home every other day.

And, if you think about it, at that time there were no guarantees that this industry, and these jobs, would continue being there in the future.

When I hired out in 1976, one-third of the nation’s railroads were in bankruptcy; one- third were on the edge of bankruptcy; and the remaining third were barely making a profit.

Conditions were so bad, we had standing derailments. The tracks would simply give out beneath cars sitting in the yard.

While on-duty injuries and fatalities continued to occur at a frightening pace, rail was a dying mode: rapidly losing freight to trucks and passengers to air and auto.

Thankfully, this great union has always lived by the motto that working men and women – when united together – have great power to make positive change.

Rail workers have fought through difficult conditions, and through years when funding for Amtrak and commuter rail was threatened to be cut, if not outright eliminated.

And an industry has emerged from that struggle that is now uniquely positioned to help our transportation system move more people and more goods as we grapple with climate change – an industry that is stronger and is safer.

In 2013, the number of rail workers killed on the job – instead of one every other day – was down to approximately one a month. Still too many, but a remarkable improvement.

And so far in 2014 we’ve only had two fatalities in the first six months. Yet again, remarkable improvement.

Train accidents have decreased to new lows for five straight fiscal years now, part of a nearly 50 percent reduction since Fiscal Year 2004. During that time, employee fatalities have declined by 59 percent.

Amtrak is now the nation’s fastest-growing major travel mode, with ridership records set in 10 out of the last 11 years.

And the freight rail industry is now in a better position than ever to meet the nation’s growing transportation needs.

But I’m not satisfied with any of this – not even close. Because that was still 14 unnecessary deaths in 2013 – and two so far in 2014.

And, while record investments have been made in passenger rail during this Administration, we have yet to succeed in our goal of securing predictable, dedicated rail funding: the resources we need for rail to achieve parity with other modes of transportation.

As we look towards the year 2050, we know freight railroads are going to play a growing role in moving more than 4 billion more tons of freight across the network, and a much greater role in meeting this nation energy’s needs.

So we have to work harder than ever to create a framework that will ensure these goods move safely, reliably and efficiently. We have to drive continuous safety improvement, protect communities, and see that every railroader goes home safely.

This is what President Obama, Secretary Foxx, and I are all fighting for.

And that is why we recently sent to Congress a bill that will tackle these challenge.

It is called the GROW AMERICA Act.

As the title implies, the GROW AMERICA Act will grow federal investments in all surface transportation modes – including rail – and it will advance safety.

For all of you, that means a safe workplace, and job growth.

GROW AMERICA will provide FRA with $19 billion in funding to advance a high- performing freight and passenger rail network and advance rail safety.

But it does even more.

For the first time ever, rail will achieve predictable, dedicated funding – like all other transportation modes – and allow it to grow as a safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and efficient way to move people and goods.

Let me talk about the rail development side of our proposal.

GROW AMERICA will invest in both a Current Passenger Rail Service Program – meeting Amtrak’s needs – and a Rail Service Improvement Program to allow the system to grow.

The Current Passenger Rail program will fully fund Amtrak: ensuring a state of good repair system-wide, replacing obsolete equipment, and bringing stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To continue the development of a high-performing passenger rail network, the Rail Service Development Program will provide grants to build new corridors – with service levels and speeds targeted to the market – improve existing corridors, and address chokepoints that delay passenger services.

To enhance safety, communities will be eligible for grant funding for projects such as rail-line relocation efforts, and grade-crossing improvements, and projects that seal off corridors by building over-passes and underpasses – things that create a safer operating environment.

And GROW AMERICA will enable us to both improve and expand rail options while driving continuous safety improvement.

New records in safety have not been achieved by mistake. They are due largely to railroad workers’ individual and collective commitment to safety – and to the success of FRA’s data-based oversight and enforcement program.

But human error continues to be our most vulnerable safety area, contributing to nearly 40 percent of accidents last fiscal year.

And there are limits to what our data-driven oversight and enforcement program can achieve. This was proven by the series of accidents on Metro-North and the tragedy with the crude oil train in Quebec.

In neither case did the data indicate an imminent tragedy.

This means we need to continue to empower you to undertake honest yet non-punitive assessments of human factors – the goal being to truly understand root causation.

Ultimately, these proactive approaches to safety, overlaid above our traditional oversight and enforcement program, is how we’ll reach the next generation of safety.

And GROW AMERICA supports this evolution.

For one, our proposal calls for a nationwide rollout of the Confidential Close Call Reporting System: a partnership between FRA, labor, and the carriers that our Risk Reduction Program Division has been testing through a series of pilot projects.

It allows us to learn from mistakes that were close calls instead of accidents – and take corrective actions before any harm occurs.

It is an important turn away from the old culture of waiting for an accident to happen, then punishing an employee for being human.

So far, our pilot projects have had remarkable results, including a 70 percent reduction in certain types of accidents and a 90 recent reduction in discipline. Just as important, it has developed a positive and proactive safety culture.

GROW AMERICA will reduce confusion and create a safer working environment by harmonizing railroad operating rules in terminals with multiple operations.

And – critically – it will give us authority to establish new hours-of-service regulations that are based on fatigue science.

That way, we can address what all of us know is the root cause of fatigue for over-the- road freight train crews: those unpredictable work schedules.

The time for meaningful action, to prevent work fatigue, and to require more predictable work schedules, is now.

There are two others areas of safety I want to talk about that are not covered by the GROW AMERICA Act, but that are very important.

The NTSB has made multiple recommendations regarding the use of inward- and outward-facing cameras in controlling locomotives.

And we recently asked the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee – which your union is a part of – to develop standards that ensure these devices are used to enhance safety and not as a tool to discriminate or violate employee privacy.

I know what can happen every day out on there on the property. I’ve been that union officer who was subject to “special attention” by an overly aggressive supervisor. I’ve walked in those shoes.

So I’ll repeat what I said to the committee, which is: we owe it to everyone – the public and rail workers – to get this right. And I know we can.

Some of you are involved in the transport of significantly higher volumes of crude oil.

In partnership with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, FRA is examining the entire system for the safe delivery of crude oil.

There is not one silver bullet to solve this complex problem. It requires a comprehensive approach to evaluate risk and develop effective strategies to mitigate that risk.

As part of that, it is a fundamental premise of safety – and a tenet of the design of fail- safe systems – to never allow a single point of failure.

Safety science speaks repeatedly to the need for appropriate redundancy.

As you know, after the accident in Lac Megantic, Canada, we called the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee together for discussion on the subject of single-person crews.

But the Secretary made clear to me — the working group would either reach consensus by April 1, or FRA was to use its authority to move forward with a regulation on its own.

As you know, after six months of deliberations, the RSAC did not reach a consensus on this issue. But, as expected, we learned a great deal from the stakeholders.

The point I’m trying to make is, we understand the challenges, opportunities and potential effects of regulations – and have a responsibility to all parties to get this right.

It cannot be about job preservation, but must be solely driven by ensuring safety.

And so, we look forward to putting out proposed rulemaking language that is soundly developed, well-reasoned and balanced. And we look forward to your continued input during the comment period.

This union has supported its members and helped to build a safer, stronger industry. The next generation of railroaders – in many ways – will have you to thank.

And I think, the next generation of railroaders, looking back on this time, will say: “this is when we changed the conversation.”

Five years ago, there was no passenger rail development program, and we were just beginning to move forward with Rail Safety Improvement Act mandates that are now starting to lead an evolution in railroad safety culture.

But rail still has yet to achieve funding parity with other modes. And regarding safety, the loss of even one rail worker is just one too many.

The ideas we are fighting for in GROW AMERICA will move us forward. This is where we go beyond changing the conversation to changing history.

So I need all of you to get involved in this issue.

I need you raising your voices in unison – through your union – to let Congress know what this could mean for rail safety, for our nation’s economy, and for jobs.

So, look out for each other out there. Take no shortcuts in your duties and continue to be engaged in peer-to-peer efforts like SOFA and Confidential Close Calls reporting.

As we grow the role rail will play in moving people and goods, you have the power to continue to raise the professionalism of this industry; to ensure dignity and respect for craft employees by supporting a culture change in this industry; and, to create a safer operating environment.

And if Congress supports GROW AMERICA – together – that’s exactly what we’ll do. Thanks so much.

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SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and Vice President John Lesniewski listen to a speech by Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo at the First SMART Transportation Division Convention July 1.

FRA's Szabo challenges southeast states on rail

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RICHMOND, Va. – Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo today called on elected officials and transportation planners in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to develop a shared vision of rail service along the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Administrator Szabo’s challenge came as he addressed members and supporters of Virginians for High-Speed Rail during their 20th anniversary luncheon in Richmond.

“The metropolitan regions of the South and the Southeast in particular, are growing faster than other metropolitan regions across the country,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “In order to meet the mobility needs of a growing population and to move the products they will need to market, rail must play an enhanced role in the transportation delivery network there.”

Across the country, regions are banding together to forge collective long-term visions for passenger rail. Along the Northeast Corridor (NEC), eight states and the District of Columbia are working on a 40-year plan for rail service between Boston and Washington, D.C. In the Midwest, nine states and 40 cities have already developed the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a planning guide for long-term rail investments.

“Good planning is the cornerstone of service delivery and a plan reflecting the collective vision for a region helps the region compete effectively for future rail funds as money becomes available,” said Joseph C. Szabo, Federal Railroad Administrator. “In order for the region to achieve optimum growth, it will be necessary for them to work together more closely and plan for their transportation future.”

Administrator Szabo said regional planning between Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia could effectively yield seamless passenger rail travel all along the East Coast from Boston to Atlanta.

During his address, Administrator Szabo also highlighted the importance of the Grow America Act , the Obama Administration’s four-year $302 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill now before Congress. The bill includes $19 billion for rail, and for the first time, would provide railroads with a predictable, dedicated funding source. The Act will invest $600 million in existing state corridors like the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor and provide an additional $6.4 billion for rail service improvements along existing, expanding and new passenger corridors over the next four years.

Passenger ridership has been setting record highs in the Southeast. In Virginia, passenger ridership is up 100 percent since 2009 and in North Carolina Amtrak’s Piedmont service between Charlotte and Raleigh continues to set ridership records carrying about 100,000 more people in 2013 than it did in 2009. Since 2007, passenger ridership in Georgia increased by 15 percent and by 14 percent in South Carolina.

Similarly, freight rail traffic in the Southeast has been increasing since 2009 an average of 10 percent annually. Georgia has seen an increase of nearly 13 percent with a more than 883,000 carloads of freight annually.

The Federal Railroad Administration, along with its 32 state partners and the District of Columbia, is laying the foundation for a higher performance rail network. Sixty-five projects worth $4.1 billion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funding are currently completed, under construction, or will soon start construction in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Today, about $736 million in federal funding supports a dozen projects along the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.

FRA's Szabo discusses concerns on crude by rail

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Szabo

Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo was interviewed Platts Energy Week host Boll Lovelace May 25 to discuss ongoing concerns about transporting crude oil by rail.

Platts Energy Week is an independent energy news and information program that airs weekly. The program provides a forum where prominent decision makers in government, industry and markets gather to provide information that their peers can use to help gauge opportunities and risks associated with energy investments and trading.

To view the Szabo interview, click here.

A message from FRA chief Joe Szabo

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Szabo

The following message was sent to the UTU National Legislative Office from Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo

Friends:

The winners of TIGER 2013 grants were announced last week, and rail was again a big winner. Of the $474 million in funding awarded to 52 projects in 37 states, $146 million – roughly 30 percent of all funding – went to rail projects. Through five rounds now, TIGER – which stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – has invested $808 million in rail projects in 48 states.

TIGER catalyzes economic growth, creating good-paying jobs while building a stronger transportation system for future generations. These are innovative, top-priority transportation projects that state, city, and community leaders deem essential.

But what we’re able to invest is just a drop in the bucket compared to the demand. For this round of TIGER, DOT received more than 500 applications requesting 20 times the funding available.

Last week, at announcement events for freight rail projects in Vermont and New Hampshire, I saw firsthand the commitment of state, city, and community leaders to doing what it takes to upgrade and enhance the safety of their freight rail systems. And it’s important to note that, for the 52 projects funded through TIGER, DOT’s grantees committed $1.8 billion in overall project costs.

This speaks to the fact that, to our partners, these projects aren’t luxuries, but absolute necessities. And to us, the projects moving ahead and those left on the planning table exemplify the need to make bold investments in transportation, and also to provide a dedicated, predictable source of federal rail funding.

You can see the full list of TIGER 2013 projects here, and we’ll also do daily posts about them on our Facebook page.

Best, Joe

 

Szabo: ‘Rail is the transportation mode of opportunity’

On July 30, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo addressed attendees of the SMART Transportation Division’s regional meeting in Anaheim, Calif., speaking about future endeavors the FRA has for the rail industry and about safety enhancements moving forward.

“Rail is the transportation mode of opportunity, and we have to ensure continuous safety improvements, building upon the safest year in railroading history, and ensuring that every railroader goes home safely each day, and that communities are kept safe,” Szabo said.

Click here to listen to Szabo’s address.

Szabo was a member of UTU Local 1290 at Chicago, Ill., and served as the UTU’s Illinois State Legislative Director.

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Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo addresses attendees of the
SMART Transportation Division’s Anaheim regional meeting.

Szabo: Build more integrated rail systems

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Joe Szabo

The following message was sent to the UTU National Legislative Office from Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo:

Friends:

We know well the population growth, mobility, and environmental challenges revealing a clear need to invest in passenger rail, and of passenger rail’s skyrocketing ridership – be it intercity, commuter, light, or heavy. But rail is not only integral to Americans rethinking how they travel; it’s at the very center of their desire for more livable communities.

Just last week, the Urban Land Institute released America in 2013, a report revealing how changing demographics are reshaping development patterns by increasing demand for mixed-used communities offering convenient access to public transportation. According to the survey, 62 percent of Americans planning to move in the next five years would prefer to settle in mixed-use communities offering access to transportation alternatives.

And while support for mixed-use communities and public transportation access is strong throughout all generations, the Urban Land Institute’s report notes its strongest supporters are among the group that is both the largest and most likely to impact development patterns: Generation Y, or the Millennial Generation, which includes young adults ages 18 to 34. In the survey, 76 percent of Generation Y respondents place a high value on walkability; 62 percent prefer mixed-use development; 59 percent prefer diversity in housing choices; and 55 percent prefer to live in a community offering public transportation.

All of this underscores the need to continue building more integrated rail systems, with intercity rail operators, transit systems, and the stations they serve working together to offer travelers more choices and answer a rising call for more compact communities. It’s why we continue to work hard overseeing this Administration’s historic investments in passenger rail – which includes investments in upgrading 40 stations – and why we’re proposing a long-term plan in our Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request to continue investing in stations and intercity passenger rail.

It’s as simple as listening to the people.

Passenger rail essential as population grows

By Joe Szabo – 
Federal Railroad Administrator

It seems like just yesterday, as UTU Illinois state legislative director and mayor of Riverdale, Ill., that I joined other mayors to successfully advocate for more frequent rail service from Chicago to downstate Illinois communities. 

At the time, even that modest goal seemed daunting, as conventional wisdom said Americans would no longer ride trains.

Fast forward to 2012, where 30 million people are riding Amtrak each year — more than ever before. 

The future looks even brighter. 

How did it happen? My brothers and sisters at the UTU worked with mayors, business owners, university presidents and environmental groups across the nation to show elected officials at all levels of government how better train service would transform local economies, provide Americans with more transportation options and create new jobs.

Decades of advocacy are finally paying dividends, as we finally have a president in Barack Obama who understands that our economy is dependent on the quality of our transportation system. President Obama invested more than $10 billion in regional rail networks that will provide a much needed alternative to congested highways and airports as our nation grows by 100 million people over the next 40 years.

As FRA administrator, I have visited communities across the country as they begin construction projects. Some include:

* New England, where service will reach new communities in Maine this year. 

* The Pacific Northwest, where new construction will lead to more frequent service between Seattle and Portland.

* The Midwest, where trips from Chicago to Detroit and St. Louis will be more than an hour shorter by 2014, and feature next-generation American-made trains.

* The Southeast, where new construction will lead to more frequent and reliable service between Charlotte and Raleigh.

* California, where construction is underway to add capacity to existing corridors, while the state breaks ground on its high-speed train system later this year.

The Obama administration also invested more than $3 billion to improve reliability and order new locomotives for the Northeast Corridor, while Northeast states begin planning for the next generation of the service.

In communities I visit, I meet leaders of both political parties who are excited to explain how their town will benefit from a project. As a former mayor, I relate. At the local level, transportation investments are not about politics – they are about creating new jobs, attracting new investment, and making the lives of our friends and neighbors better.

Now is the time for Congress to make the investments we need in passenger rail to create jobs today and provide America with the world-class transportation network we need in the 21st century.

(Prior to his April 2009 Senate confirmation as FRA administrator, Joe Szabo was UTU Illinois state legislative director. He is a fifth generation railroader.)

Rail safety concerns? Questions? FRA all ears

FRA logoCHICAGO — Here is an opportunity to voice your rail safety concerns directly to the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

A 90-minute town hall meeting on rail safety will be held Tuesday, Oct. 11, in Chicago. FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo will take questions and hear concerns as part of the agency’s outreach to rail labor.

Szabo, formerly the UTU’s Illinois state legislative director and a fifth-generation railroader, promises “a frank and often safety discussion.” He also will share with the audience details on the FRA’s risk reduction program, which is a non-punitive approach to addressing safety in advance of an accident or injury.

FRA Associate Administrator for Safety Jo Strang wrote of that program some months ago in an exclusive column that appeared in the UTU News and on the UTU website. A link to that column is provided below.

Here are the details of the town hall meeting:

WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 11, from 9-10:30 a.m.

WHERE: Chicago Laborers District Council, 999 McClintock Drive, Burr Ridge, Ill. Burr Ridge is 20 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

To read the Jo Strang column on the FRA’s risk reduction program, click on the following link:

https://smart-union.org/news/help-fra-stop-harassment-improve-safety/