Matt Yglesias wonders “if one of these days we could have a real technical expert run DOT rather than a politician.” David Gunn, former head of Amtrak, has made the same complaint. I’m obviously sympathetic, but it is the right idea for the wrong position. What I mean by that is that much of the technical dysfunction falls under the FRA.
It was on this date four years ago that the Senate confirmed Joe Szabo to head the FRA. And whereas Obama’s second term will be getting a lot of new blood, that does not appear to be the case with the FRA. The country will apparently be stuck with Szabo, which is not a good thing for advocates of intercity and high-speed rail.
His record over the past four years is dreadful. The FRA has budgeted over $12 billion on projects, without accomplishing even one mile of HSR line. And despite many promises, the onerous FRA regulations have, if anything, gotten even worse. The PTC mandate is behind schedule, and his FRA funded the idiotic Caltrain CBOSS project. The next two years will be critical — do we really want the guy who tried to paint the letter “F” on locomotives?