February 14, 2018 / 12:47 AM / in a year

Senate confirms top rail safety official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed late on Tuesday a former Conrail president as the top U.S. rail safety official as a series of deadly railroad accidents have raised concerns.

The nomination of Ronald Batory, who was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in August to head the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), had been stalled for months by Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer over a dispute over funding for a New York City area infrastructure project.

Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, had pressed Democrats to approve Batory. “His confirmation is a win for railroad safety and I expect him to have an impact,” said Thune.

A spokesman for Schumer said Trump’s budget and infrastructure proposals released Monday showed that the administration is not interested in advancing a $24 billion project to build a tunnel under the Hudson River critical to northeast U.S. transportation.

“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 Congress,” the spokesman said.

The former top Trump administration rail safety official resigned Saturday after questions were raised about whether he was conducting outside work, the U.S. Transportation Department said. Batory has been serving as a consultant to FRA.

There have been a number of high-profile rail crashes in recent months, most recently the Feb. 4 crash of an Amtrak passenger train with a freight train that killed two people and injured more than 100 in South Carolina.

A deadly Amtrak crash in December near Seattle killed three after an engineer misread a signal and was speeding, investigators have said.

On Jan. 31, an Amtrak train carrying lawmakers slammed into a garbage truck on Wednesday in Virginia, killing one person.

The Senate also Tuesday confirmed two other Transportation Department nominees - Raymond Martinez to head the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Adam Sullivan to be assistant secretary of governmental affairs.

In December, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urged the nation’s railroads and transit agencies to take all possible measures to meet deadlines to install a safety system called positive train control to prevent crashes.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee plans to hold a hearing Thursday on the status of efforts to install the technology, including Amtrak’s chief executive, the National Transportation Safety Board and FRA.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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