Former mayor will lead future high-speed rail programs
National Corridors reports that Joseph “Joe” Szabo, currently Illinois state director of the United Transportation Union, will be the President’s pick for chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees freight rail movements, Amtrak, and most commuter railroads. Mr. Szabo is currently serving on the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee and before that he was mayor of the Village of Riverdale, IL.
Mr. Szabo has a strong background as an on-the-ground railroad worker, having been an employee of the Illinois Central and then of Metra, which is the public agency that oversees suburban Chicago’s commuter rail network. That experience made a major player in the union for which he currently works. He remains on the executive leadership of Chicago Metropolis 2020, which is a partnership designed to encourage smarter, transit-oriented growth in the region.
Though I don’t know much about Mr. Szabo, a quick search reveals he’s been intimately involved in railroad policy making for a number of years and is likely a good choice because of his direct experience. Earlier this year, he spoke in favor of high-speed rail to a Midwest group. In 2006, he said “There is a pent-up demand for inter-city passenger rail, and increased frequencies raise ridership exponentially… The bottom line is that as the frequencies grow by addition the choices grow by multiplication—and so does the ridership… As long as we can get the quality up and keep it up, any quantity we add to the system will find its market and keep it. The future of passenger rail service in Illinois is whatever we want to make it. Think of the job growth…” These are the type of comments we want to hear from the FRA administrator.
Nonetheless, Mr. Szabo has quite a task ahead of him, namely that of leading the distribution of $8 billion in stimulus funds for an American high-speed rail network. It’s going to be a challenge to know where to start.