Top railroad oversight department finally gets a full-time chief

The long tortured road to a permanent head of the Federal Railroad Administration came to an end Wednesday as the nomination of former Conrail President and COO Ronald Batory was approved by voice voice in the Senate. 

The lack of any dispute on the nomination masked the fact that the appointment had been made last July. Despite there being no particular criticism of Batory’s qualifications for the role–he had a 40-plus year career in the railroad industry including his time at Conrail, and was a board member of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver–His nomination was stalled as part of the broader standoff in the Senate.

Batory’s nomination was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee soon after he was named to the slot by President Trump. But as part of the continuing dispute over federal funding for the Gateway Project, which includes a new tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York, senators from those two states, all of them Democrats, put a block on the Batory nomination until now. There remains no funding mechanism in place for the Gateway project.

Since November, Batory has been serving as special assistant on railroad matters to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. 

There have been three interim heads of the FRA since Trump took office. The second, Heath Hall, resigned just a few days ago after Politico reported that Hall was deriving second income as a public information officer for a county sheriff in Mississippi. His replacement has just served a few days, awaiting Batory’s confirmation.

The pressure to approve Batory’s nomination picked up after an Amtrak accident that killed two in South Carolina February 4. It is the FRA that investigates such accidents.

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