Saturday, December 18, 2004

Head of Federal Railroad Administration Resigns Under Pressure

Betty Monro, acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration announced yesterday that she was stepping down, "for personal reasons." The agency is facing two federal investigations of her agency's oversight of rail safety, brought on by several articles in the NY Times that were covered in Confined Space here and here.

Monro had urged agency officials to pursue less punitive "partnership" approaches instead of larger fines after investigations into Union Pacific accidents had shown "track defects repeatedly went uncorrected; passenger trains were sent down defective tracks at speeds more than four times faster than were deemed safe; and engines and rail cars were dispatched in substandard condition."

Monro's close friend (and frequent vacation partner) was Union Pacific's chief Washington lobbyist, Mary E. McAuliffe.

Representative Charlie Gonzalez, Democrat of Texas, said in an interview that he hoped that the Bush administration had learned from the experience and that it might appoint someone who did not follow Ms. Monro's policies. The agency backed a "partnership" approach to regulation, which emphasized working with railroads, rather than punishing them.

"Sometimes you can't partner up with the industry and hope that things will work their way out," Mr. Gonzalez said.