April 29, 2009

WASHINGTON (April 29)—Former UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Obama administration’s Federal Railroad Administrator.

The unanimous vote came at about 7 p.m. Washington time. President Barack Obama nominated him for the position March 26.

Szabo, 51, who will report to U.S. Transp. Sec. Ray LaHood, is expected to take office May 5 in an informal swearing-in ceremony that will enable him to take over the Administrator’s duties immediately. A more formal ceremony is expected to take place at a later date.

The position became vacant on Nov. 26, when the Bush administration’s FRA Administrator, Joseph Boardman, resigned to become chairman and CEO of Amtrak.

“All of us here in Illinois are just delighted to see Joe confirmed,” said his successor, Bob Guy. “While we’re sorry to lose him we are very excited to realize that the experience, skills and judgment Joe brought to his union work in Illinois are now going to be applied to issues and opportunities of national scope.”

Guy said major issues Szabo is expected to grapple with include safety, the development and testing of new railroad technologies, and the distribution of $8 billion in passenger-rail capital grants that Congress made available to state transportation departments in the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act passed Feb. 13.

“Every member of the UTU in Illinois knows that no one has been more dedicated to the cause of railroad workplace safety—or more effective–than Joe Szabo,” Guy said. “The railroads know it too. I have no doubt that Joe will bring that same dedication to his work at the FRA “

Guy noted that Szabo is the first of the 13 federal railroad administrators to come from the ranks of railroad labor.

“The carriers not only did not oppose his nomination, but welcomed it,” he said.

“I think they did that because they know Joe is fundamentally fair and because they know he is so qualified. In addition to being a fifth-generation railroader and a union official, he served as the mayor of Riverdale, a Chicago suburb of 15,000 people, where he managed 100 employees and a $9-million budget. He dealt daily with the FRA in his union work, and has served for years on its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee [RSAC], where he works with carriers and suppliers on rulemaking, which is the core of the FRA’s mission. You just don’t find many people with that kind of resumé.”

Guy said Szabo has “a full plate” but will not be intimidated by the scale of his duties.

“Joe attacks problems with skill and zeal, and he solves them” Guy said. “The people of the U.S. are about to learn what we in Illinois already know: Joe’s the real thing. All of us wish him the very best as he prepares to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”