March 26, 2009

WASHINGTON (March 26)—President Obama has nominated UTU Acting Alternate National Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo to become Federal Railroad Administrator.

The appointment, which Obama had signaled weeks ago, came in a formal letter of nomination to the Clerk of the U.S. Senate, with a copy to the appointee.

The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. Illinois Legislative Director Bob Guy said a hearing on Szabo’s appointment is expected to be held by the Senate Commerce Committee sometime in the near future.

If approved by the Committee, Szabo’s nomination then will be sent to the floor of the Senate for confirmation. If confirmed, Szabo, 51, would become the 13th FRA administrator since the FRA was created in 1967 and the first administrator to come from a railroad labor union.

“In addition to being a very proud moment for rail labor, Joe Szabo’s appointment sends a strong signal about the FRA’s priorities” Guy said, noting that the FRA was created largely as a safety-enforcement agency, and “nobody cares more abouth safety in the rail industry than Joe Szabo.”

“While serving as Illinois Legislative Director, Joe worked tirelessly to help protect the well being not only of UTU members, but of all rail employees,” Guy said.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the seven Class I carriers, endorsed Szabo’s appointment, and AAR President Edward R. Hamberger said, “We congratulate Joe Szabo on his nomination as administrator. He would bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position.”

“I think that’s because they know he’s fair,” Guy said. “Joe has always preached that the carriers should be given the opportunity to address our concerns before we seek the involvement of regulatory agencies. The carriers have worked with him as a fellow member of the FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee [RSAC], and they respect him for his deep knowledge of the industry and for his understanding of the interface between the new operating technologies and the human beings who use them.”

Guy said Szabo’s appointment also is appropriate because under the Obama administration the FRA’s role is going to expand beyond safety into other areas where Szabo has unique experience, including a long-overdue buildup in rail passenger service and infrastructure.

“The president has made it clear he wants a robust and growing passenger-rail industry in this country,” Guy said. “That’s why he insisted that Amtrak’s budget be doubled and that $8 billion for state passenger-rail projects be included in the stimulus bill.

“Joe was one of the point men in getting the Illinois General Assembly to double the state’s spending for Amtrak corridor service in 2006,” Guy said. “He worked with the passenger-train activists, the environmentalists and the mayors of more than 50 Illinois cities to grow our state-supported rail system. Joe’s experience, dedication and effectiveness—and his reputation for fairness—are exactly what the president wants in place at the FRA.

“Our members in Illinois are very proud of Joe and we wish him the best,” Guy said. “We know he’ll do a fantastic job and we look forward with pride to his being confirmed by the United States Senate.”