When I am discussing the advantages of privatizing airports, air traffic control, and passenger rail, reporters often ask, “Will it be safe?” I point out that these activities are private in many other countries, and are indeed safe. Besides, if you only trust government-owned transportation, then you should not drive that Ford car or fly in that Boeing airplane.
Also, consider how dysfunctional the federal agencies are that are supposed to ensure safety, such as the 900-person Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Clearly, it is not doing a good job on rail safety, given all the recent crashes on government-run Amtrak.
During the Obama adminstration, the FRA was headed by someone who had no background in railroads or transportation, or apparently any technical qualifications. The ticket to the top for the official appears to have been a decade of media relations jobs for Democratic members of Congress and the Obama White House.
More recently, another party person, also devoid of relevant skills, was appointed to the number two slot at the FRA, and he is now embroiled in scandal. Health Hall resigned the other day from the FRA due to allegations that he was illegally working a second job in Mississippi while he was supposed to be on duty in Washington.
Hall apparently had no railroad or technical experience, other than as an FRA intern. The Washington Post called him a “public relations professional and political consultant.”
While we've had amateurs running the FRA, NPR notes,
last year marked the deadliest year in terms of railroad deaths nationwide in at least a decade. In just the past two weeks, a train carrying House and Senate Republicans to their annual retreat struck a garbage truck, killing one person, and a train collision in South Carolina killed two and injured more than 100 more. In December, an Amtrak passenger train derailed and plummeted off an overpass in Washington state, killing three people.
As usual, Congress has added to the bureaucratic disarray: “The FRA hasn’t had a permanent leader in more than a year, as Senate Democrats have blocked the confirmation of former railroad executive Ron Batory, who is President Trump’s nominee for the position.”
The bottom line is that Washington is a mess, and everyone knows it. The more transportation activities we can extract from its dysfunctional claws the better.
Read more about Amtrak here.