January 11, 2015 / 11:10 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. Transportation Dept official Feinberg to lead rail regulator

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sarah Feinberg, the U.S. secretary of transportation’s chief of staff, will lead the nation’s railroad regulator as the department works to finalize oil train safety rules, according to an agency email sent on Sunday.

A former White House official and tech industry executive, Feinberg will serve as acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates freight and passenger service on the national network.

“I have asked my Chief of Staff, Sarah Feinberg, to step in as the Acting Administrator at FRA,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the staff memo obtained by Reuters. The agency will have a large say in a federal safety plan meant to prevent future oil train mishaps, a top safety issue since most fuel produced from North Dakota’s energy patch, the Bakken, moves by rail.

Feinberg joined the Transportation Department weeks after the Lac Megantic tragedy, when a delivery of Bakken fuel jumped the track in the Canadian town, killing 47 people. In the months since the incident, Feinberg has served as a channel between industry and regulators about how to make such deliveries safer.

Feinberg has also pushed Congress to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, a $302 billion federal kitty meant to finance road improvements across the nation.

The fund relies on a federal gas tax that has been frozen for more than 20 years. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said last week he doubted there were enough votes in the new Republican-led Congress to raise gasoline taxes.

A longtime aide to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Feinberg worked as a communications executive with Bloomberg L.P. and Facebook after leaving the White House in 2010.

Feinberg was a deputy to Emanuel during his time as Obama’s chief of staff from 2009 to 2010.

Joseph Szabo, the current FRA director, announced his intention to resign in November. As acting director, Feinberg’s appointment does not require Senate approval.

Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Peter Cooney

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