CHICAGO – As a former railroad brakeman, the region’s top planner Joe Szabo knows how to stop a train.

So it’s significant he backs a controversial new federal rule requiring freight railroads to install electronic braking systems on trains carrying crude oil and ethanol.

Shiploads of volatile fuel are increasing in the Chicago region with about 40 crude oil trains a week, data that concerns suburban mayors and fire departments wary of a worst-case scenario.

Read more from the Daily Herald.

Amtrak on Tuesday renamed its operations center in Chicago to honor Joseph Szabo, a fifth-generation railroader who headed the Federal Railroad Administration for 51/2 years of the Obama administration.

Szabo, 56, left the administration in December to return to Chicago, where he is a senior policy adviser on transportation at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Read the complete story at the Chicago Tribune.


Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo offered the following remarks at the groundbreaking for the California High-Speed Rail project in Fresno, Calif., Jan. 6.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Governor Brown, Congressman Costa, Administrator McCarthy, Chairman Richards – everyone here today – I bring you greetings on behalf of President Obama and Secretary Foxx.

Today we make history – and this Administration could not have asked for a more resolute partner than Governor Jerry Brown. Thanks to his visionary leadership, California will set the standard for high-speed rail in America.

In February 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, providing $8 billion for intercity passenger rail projects, and then in 2010, Congress appropriated another $2 billion.

From this money, $3.4 billion was invested in California High-Speed Rail and became the catalyst for the historic groundbreaking we celebrate today. However, the investment alone wasn’t enough, we’re here today because Governor Brown’s leadership transformed a vision into reality.

When you look at historic transportation projects like the Golden Gate Bridge or the Panama Canal, the naysayers are all long forgotten. It pays to be on the right side of history, because we remember the courageous leaders with the fortitude to weather the storms and prepare for the future.

By 2050, 100 million more Americans will call our country home and we must have an efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible way to move them.

Rail is the mode of opportunity and its benefits cannot be ignored. Two railroad tracks can carry as many travelers in an hour as 16 lanes of freeway…in a fraction of the space.

The California High Speed Train will not only serve the State of California, but ultimately will serve as the backbone to a southwest regional high-speed network and a model for High Speed Rail development nationwide.

It will reduce congestion, improve air quality and promote economic development. And right now it is bringing good paying jobs to California.

Throughout California and across America, record ridership growth show that Americans are re- discovering rail and choosing it as their preferred mode of travel. California will set an example for the Nation with America’s first high-speed train.

I’m proud to be a part of history today. Governor, thank you for your commitment to this historic project and, most importantly, your leadership.

Thank you.


The following message was sent to the SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Office from Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo.


Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation released two companion rulemaking proposals to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable materials by rail. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration’s (PHMSA) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) are the latest in a comprehensive effort to minimize risk and ensure the safe transport of hazardous materials by rail – particularly crude oil and ethanol.

As U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Safety is our top priority, which is why I’ve worked aggressively to improve the safe transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials since my first week in office. While we have made unprecedented progress through voluntary agreements and emergency orders, today’s proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely.”

The NPRM proposes enhanced tank car standards, a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids and new operational requirements for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) that include braking controls and speed restrictions. Additionally, within two years, it proposes the phase out of the use of older DOT 111 tank cars for the shipment of packing group I flammable liquids, including most Bakken crude oil, unless the existing DOT 111 tank cars are retrofitted to comply with new tank car design standards. The ANPRM seeks further information on expanding comprehensive oil spill response planning requirements for HHFT’s.

Your feedback is a significant step in the rulemaking process. The public comment period for the NPRM and ANPRM will be open for 60 days, so review the proposed rulemakings and use the docket to submit your comments.

We owe it to the American public to seek all opportunities to drive continuous safety improvement. FRA is supporting PHMSA in these rulemakings and we will continue to work with PHMSA to identify and reduce risk wherever it exists in rail transportation.


Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo addressed members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Feb. 26, providing them with oversight of passenger and freight rail safety and responding to questions.

Also addressing the subcommittee were Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Cynthia Quarterman, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

To read Szabo’s remarks, click here.


The following message was sent to the UTU National Legislative Office from Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo.


I wanted to share with you a rail safety achievement from 2013 that really meant a lot to me. Last year, only one railroad employee died during switching operations.

As I wrote on the DOT blog, this is more than a statistic to me. What’s more, I know that all of my FRA colleagues share my view that one worker fatality is one too many.

But we’re moving in the right direction – and that’s largely thanks to the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis Group (SOFA) formed in 1998 with FRA, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, the United Transportation Union, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, and the Association of American Railroads.

This is real proof that safety partnerships get results, serving our core goal of ensuring continuous safety improvement. With continued cooperation among SOFA’s stakeholders, I believe our ultimate goal of all rail workers returning home safely each day is now well within our reach.

Here’s another link to the blog:


The following are Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo’s opening remarks to those attending the 50th meeting of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) in Washington on Oct. 31, 2013.

Today marks the end of a stressful month. The government shutdown forced us to put a lot of important work on hold. And since it ended, we’ve had a lot of catching up to do. 

So let me thank my FRA staff for catching up so fast so that the RSAC could meet this week as planned. 

As I said at the emergency RSAC meeting two months ago, we have a very important job to do. 

The accident in Quebec took 47 lives. And at our last meeting, all of us saw the unforgettable images of a town that was decimated.

 Given the depths of the devastation, given the tremendous increase in crude oil and ethanol being moved by rail, and given our shared desire to prevent a similar accident from happening in the United States, we owe the public both decisive action and a thorough re-examination of relevant regulations and industry practices. 

We must also acknowledge that, since we last met, there was another accident in Canada – this one involving the derailment of four rail cars carrying crude oil.

The crude oil did not originate in the United States – and the damage was much less severe.

But it still serves as a reminder that we must we must do everything we can to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the United States.

This is why we are here. 

FRA’s first decisive action after the accident in Quebec was to issue an Emergency Order. This required railroads to take immediate steps within 30 days to prevent trains on mainline tracks or sidings from moving unintentionally. 

And to begin our overall re-examination, we issued a Safety Advisory with our sister agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Our Safety Advisory recommended additional ways railroads can further reduce risk in our complex, interconnected rail system – and through those efforts, further strengthen the safe transportation of passengers and freight, including hazardous materials, by rail.

At our Emergency Meeting, we began an honest discussion about these recommendations. The RSAC also agreed to accept task statements related to train securement, to hazardous materials, and to train crew size.

So let me thank you for your hard work on these tasks over the past three months, and especially those who attended the working group meetings the past three days. 

There is no going back. Ensuring continuous safety improvement demands that we stay focused, we meet our April deadline, and we finish the job.

To be clear, we are not here because our rail system is unsafe – or because accidents of trains carrying hazardous materials are widespread.

Our rail system is extremely safe.

As I have said repeatedly, 2012 – by virtually all measures – was the safest year in railroading history, with train accidents down a remarkable 43 percent in 10 years. 

And among the millions of annual shipments of hazardous materials by rail, less than a fraction of one percent of these has resulted in any type of release. 

But this is exactly why we must remain vigilant. 

Being satisfied with the progress made to date is simply not the mindset that has led us – or will continue to lead us – to higher levels of safety. 

A new milestone achieved in safety is merely an invitation to do better. 

The safety statistics of the MM&A before Lac Megantic did little to show an impending accident. 

Yet with a thorough risk analysis it becomes clearer where pockets of risk were evident. 

It presents a challenge to go beyond the statistics, to do thorough risk analyses, and to add the safety redundancy that takes away single points of failure. 

But, this is how we will achieve the next breakthrough in safety, and get better at addressing accidents before they happen. 

This is what we are committed to. 

This is why we are here. 

The safest year in railroading history did not happen by mistake.

Many of you in this room and many of your predecessors helped guide us there. 

And it never would have happened without stringent regulations and enforcement; without extensive industry guidelines, practices, and testing; or without a well-trained and committed workforce. 

But the RSAC’s job now is to set aside any assumptions. Your charge here is to look at everything with a fresh set of eyes. 

For the tasks related to hazardous materials and securement, this means a thorough reconsideration of existing regulations – and industry practices: from guidelines, to training, and efficiency testing. 

And the goal is simple. 

We must identify how regulations and practices can be improved. And if there are any gaps, we must find common sense ways to close them. 

So far, the industry has shown us it is willing to move forward. 

On September 30th, I sent letters to the Association of American Railroads, the American Public Transportation Association, and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. And the letter informed them that we were starting a web page to keep the public informed about their progress in implementing recommendations in the safety advisory. 

In the letter, I asked the organizations to summarize the steps their members have taken to address our recommendation. And all three organizations – within weeks – responded with descriptions of their recent actions. 

We posted our letters and the responses on the web page. And the industry associations will receive letters from us with additional questions very soon. 

Our plan is to keep this page updated so we can have a public, transparent conversation. 

Another project dovetailing with the work moving forward in the RSAC is what we’re calling Operation Classification. 

This is a joint inspection operation we launched with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the Bakken region to verify that crude oil is being properly classified in accordance with federal regulations. 

We are making sure that the testing to determine its classification is being done, while also analyzing the effects of corrosion in tank cars. 

Collected samples are still being tested. And our goal, ultimately, is to establish best practices for the classification of hazardous materials. 

Like us at the FRA, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – as Administrator Cynthia Quarterman said at the emergency meeting – is determined to use all means necessary to prevent a tragedy on par with what happened in Canada here in the United States. And they remain a vital partner for the FRA as the RSAC’s efforts move forward. 

It is important to understand that our sister agency writes the regulations governing the safe movement of hazardous material by rail. We in turn enforce them.  

And it’s with your input that we’ll recommend to them if current hazardous material regulations need to be revised or expanded. 

With securement, the task is very similar – except the regulations are FRA’s. 

We are relying on you to thoroughly review both the adequacy of the regulations in place – and particularly how well these regulations are understood and followed. And we are relying on you to help us add more clarity to securement practices, and help us better understand what are truly the most effective practices for securing a train. 

We are also asking you to take a hard look at the issue of train crew size. 

As we have said from the beginning, FRA believes safety is enhanced through the use of multiple-person crews. And while we want this to continue being a robust conversation that recognizes the nuance of railroading, two days ago Bob made our position very clear: The starting point for our discussion is mandating multiple-person crews. 

Now, this does not mean we are seeking to impose a single one-size-fits-all approach. 

And as I’ve said before, this cannot be viewed as a job security measure. 

So, while we believe that multiple-person crews enhance safety and eliminate risk from our vast rail network, we also believe there are instances in which multiple-person crews may not be necessary. 

The starting point for our conversation is to identify what these exceptions should be. 

We’re relying on you to help us with this and I believe that no other group is more qualified – or more capable – of identifying the proper exceptions than you. 

The public is counting on us to make timely progress. 

So, let’s have this conversation and meet the April deadline.

And let’s seize this opportunity to build upon the comprehensive safety framework that made last year the safest in railroading history. 

This is why we are here. 

Thank you very much.

The nation’s top railroad administrator has told the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway that he is “shocked” that the company has not adopted a policy of using two-person crews on its trains in the United States.

In a letter to the Maine-based company, Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Joseph Szabo said he expects the railroad to stop manning trains with one-person crews.

Read the complete story at The Portland Press Herald.


On July 30, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo addressed attendees of the SMART Transportation Division’s regional meeting in Anaheim, Calif., speaking about future endeavors the FRA has for the rail industry and about safety enhancements moving forward.

“Rail is the transportation mode of opportunity, and we have to ensure continuous safety improvements, building upon the safest year in railroading history, and ensuring that every railroader goes home safely each day, and that communities are kept safe,” Szabo said.

Click here to listen to Szabo’s address.

Szabo was a member of UTU Local 1290 at Chicago, Ill., and served as the UTU’s Illinois State Legislative Director.


Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo addresses attendees of the
SMART Transportation Division’s Anaheim regional meeting.

FRA_logo_wordsWASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) August 2 issued an emergency order and safety advisory to help prevent trains operating on mainline tracks or sidings from moving unintentionally. The FRA’s announcement was made in response to the July 6, 2013, derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, as it awaits additional data once the investigation into the crash is complete.

The actions announced today build on the success of FRA’s rigorous safety program, which has helped reduce train accidents by 43 percent over the last decade, and made 2012 the safest year in American rail history.

The emergency order is a mandatory directive to the rail industry, and failure to comply will result in enforcement actions against violating railroads.

“Safety is our top priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “While we wait for the full investigation to conclude, the department is taking steps today to help prevent a similar incident from occurring in the United States.”

The emergency order outlines measures that all railroads must undertake within the next 30 days:

•No train or vehicles transporting specified hazardous materials can be left unattended on a mainline track or side track outside a yard or terminal, unless specifically authorized.

•In order to receive authorization to leave a train unattended, railroads must develop and submit to FRA a process for securing unattended trains transporting hazardous materials, including locking the locomotive or otherwise disabling it, and reporting among employees to ensure the correct number of hand brakes are applied.

•Employees who are responsible for securing trains and vehicles transporting such specified hazardous material must communicate with the train dispatchers the number of hand brakes applied, the tonnage and length of the train or vehicle, the grade and terrain features of the track, any relevant weather conditions, and the type of equipment being secured.

•Train dispatchers must record the information provided. The dispatcher or other qualified railroad employee must verify that the securement meets the railroad’s requirements.

•Railroads must implement rules ensuring that any employee involved in securing a train participate in daily job briefings prior to the work being performed.

•Railroads must develop procedures to ensure a qualified railroad employee inspects all equipment that an emergency responder has been on, under or between before the train can be left unattended.

•Railroads must provide this emergency order to all affected employees.

View the complete emergency order here.

For guidance on Emergency Order 28 implementation, click here.

“Today’s action builds upon a comprehensive regulatory framework we have had in place for some time,” said FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “The safe shipment of all cargo is paramount and protecting the safety of the American public is fundamental to our enforcement strategy and we are encouraged by the industry’s willingness to cooperate with this approach going forward.”

“This is an important step being taken by the FRA as the issue of the consists of crews is now in the public debate,” said SMART Transportation Division President Mike Futhey. “As a result of the actions taken by the FRA, coupled with the legislation entered by U.S. Reps. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), this provides our organization with the opportunity to ensure that train operation, as it pertains to the consists of crews, is performed in correlation with public safety.

In addition to the emergency order, the FRA, together with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), issued a safety advisory detailing a list of recommendations railroads are expected to follow.

U.S. DOT believes that railroad safety is enhanced through the use of multiple crew members, and the safety advisory recommends railroads review their crew staffing requirements for transporting hazardous material and ensure that they are adequate. Other recommendations in the safety advisory include: conducting system-wide evaluations to identify particular hazards that may make it more difficult to secure a train or pose other safety risks and to develop procedures to mitigate those risks. A copy of the safety advisory can be viewed here.

“When PHMSA talks about the transportation of hazardous materials, safety is a prerequisite to movement,” said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. “We are taking this action today and we will be looking hard at the current rail operating practices for hazardous materials to ensure the public’s safety.”?

As FRA continues to evaluate safety procedures following the recent crash, it will convene an emergency meeting of its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to consider what additional safety measures may be required. FRA plans to develop a website that will allow the public to track industry compliance with the emergency order and safety advisory issued today. FRA has developed a plan that outlines six major actions that have occurred or will occur to further ensure that our regulatory response to the Canadian rail accident remains transparent.

Under current DOT regulations, all freight railroads are required to develop and implement risk assessments and security plans in order to transport any hazardous material, including a plan to prevent unauthorized access in rail yards, facilities and trains carrying hazardous materials. Railroads that carry hazardous materials are required to develop and follow a security protocol while en route; railroad employees are subject to background checks and must complete training. Training programs and protocols are reviewed and audited by the FRA routinely and generally designed to be progressive so as the level of risk increases so does the level of security required. A description of past, present, and proposed FRA actions on this issue can be found here.