There’s been a lot of sturm und drang about what environmental zealots have deemed “bomb trains.” Every time an oil train derails there’s a renewed effort to blame the derailment on the oil industry.
Because that fits the narrative of the environmental left.
Yet, it’s increasingly clear that what we have isn’t an oil problem but a rail problem. According to preliminary reports the recent oil train derailment in Heimdal, North Dakota, was caused by a broken wheel. The Casselton derailment was caused by a broken axle on a train hauling agriculture crops which an oil train then collided with.
To the best of my knowledge, not a single oil train derailment in America has been caused by oil. The derailments are happening because of rail issues. And something which hasn’t previously gotten a lot of attention as these derailments happen over and over again is the fact that the Obama administration has yet to appoint a new head to the Federal Railroad Administration which, among other things, oversees rail and mechanical inspections.
President Barack Obama has failed to nominate a leader for the Federal Railroad Administration for 127 days and counting, a vacancy that experts say could hamper the federal response to the accident that killed eight people and injured more than 200 others.
“Career employees who have been here before this administrator and will be here after this administrator know that an acting administrator has less authority,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, which has issued the FRA a flurry of recommended safeguards over the years that the agency has yet to implement. He said the lack of a permanent leader can only be a “detriment.”
The agency’s acting chief, Sarah Feinberg, is a former Facebook executive and ex-aide to Rahm Emanuel who has close ties to the White House and much popularity on the Hill — but little substantial railroad experience. And as only an interim boss, she faces obstacles in even attempting to make the changes that FRA critics want to see at the agency, which some lawmakers have lambasted as too slow to regulate and too cozy with the railroads it oversees.
The agency also hasn’t had a deputy administrator since September.
“The federal government is trillions of dollars in debt and slow often to respond just because of the size of the bureaucracy,” North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak told me recently by way of explaining her sport for renewed state efforts to oversee rail safety. “States can respond more quickly and put resources in place that will make the most difference.”
That’s no doubt true, and you have to think the Obama administration’s decision not to provide the FRA with permanent leadership (not to mention more qualified leadership) is exacerbating the situation.