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Blumenthal Presses Chao on Transportation Safety & Infrastructure Investment

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today, during the Senate Commerce Committee’s hearing to consider Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pressed on the importance of infrastructure investments, calling for a coordinated, bipartisan effort to modernize and upgrade deteriorating railroads and bridges.  Blumenthal said today, “we see this issue particularly in Connecticut on roads and bridges, but also the safety and reliability and speed of our rail systems, which needs to be significantly improved and that requires real investment, public resources, not just tax credits.”  Blumenthal has made several visits in New Britain, Hartford, Stamford, Bridgeport, and New London to highlight the importance and the need for real infrastructure investments in Connecticut.

The full video of Blumenthal’s exchange with Chao can be found here.

During the hearing, Blumenthal also relayed his call for real infrastructure investments, not just tax credits—a theme Blumenthal echoed at various visits in Connecticut this past fall. Blumenthal raised critical questions regarding rail safety, including the timely implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), and the Federal Rail Administration’s (FRA) controversial Northeast Corridor (NEC) FUTURE plan to reroute Amtrak through the historic Connecticut shoreline community.

Implementing Critical Transportation Safety Recommendations: Noting that hundreds of open transportation safety recommendations from various agencies under the U.S. DOT have not yet been implemented, Blumenthal asked Chao to prioritize implementation of these long overdue recommendations and not be dismissive. “Safety in our other kinds of transportation is very important as you all know a lot of the recommendations made by the agencies that will be under your jurisdiction have not been implemented. According to latest numbers from National Transportation Safety Board, there are hundreds of open safety recommendations. These recommendations are essentially, potentially lifesaving—for people effected and the agencies have failed to fulfil recommendations.” Blumenthal asked, “What are you plans to close those recommendations and make sure they’re implemented?”

Protecting Rail Riders with Positive Train Control: Citing several rail catastrophes in the Northeast that could have been stopped with Positive Train Control, Blumenthal also pressed Chao on the extended deadline for PTC implementation from 2015 to 2018—an extension Blumenthal strongly opposed. Blumenthal asked Chao if she will plan to make sure that the deadline is fulfilled and that Positive Train Control, a lifesaving technology, is implemented by 2018. Chao again promised to be briefed on the matter, and look at the deadline seriously. Blumenthal noted that he hopes the promise is not just to be briefed, but to take action.

Northeast Corridor Rail Plan: The FRA’s NEC FUTURE Plan, which would reroute Amtrak through historic Old Lyme and the Connecticut shoreline community, has been met with opposition due to the plan’s “disastrous effects on the environment, culture, historic landmarks, quality of life,” as Blumenthal said during today’s the hearing. Blumenthal asked Chao for “commitment to review this plan and change it in response to overwhelming outcry from people in Connecticut.” Chao responded saying she would review the plan very carefully if confirmed.