Having lived so much of my life at sea, I have a special appreciation for seeing a ship rumble down the boards and splash as it first hits the water, launched very much the same way as it has been done throughout history. (I’ll just need to remember to stand a little further back from the splash next time.) So watching the launch of the Bravante IX, built in a U.S. shipyard, I was especially pleased to know that investments made by the Maritime Administration (MARAD) just three years ago had brought this ship to this moment.
The investment in and upgrading of our infrastructure can be an economic game changer, increasing competiveness and fostering long term job creation. Over the last five years, the work of two MARAD grant and financing programs have come together at Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, to provide a perfect example of this principle at work. So much so, I went there to see it myself.
The Bravante IX is the fifth and final platform supply vessel ordered from Eastern Shipbuilding by Boldini S.A, a Brazilian company. These U.S.-manufactured vessels will provide service in deepwater oil fields off the coast of South America and were made possible in part by a $241 million Department of Transportation Title XI loan guarantee. What’s more, two MARAD Small Shipyard grants, totaling $3.4 million awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding, allowed for upgrades to their facilities, making the company a more attractive choice to Boldini for vessel construction...
Bravante IX launch; Scott Pittman Photography
At FRA, we’re always looking for opportunities to drive continuous safety improvement, but we can’t do it alone. Thanks to the State Rail Safety Participation Program, we don’t have to. This program allows us to supplement our federal inspectors with state inspectors, adding more manpower to help extend our oversight and inspection efforts.
Created in the Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970, the program is 44 years old this year, and we’ve seen impressive growth since its beginnings. The program provides states an excellent opportunity to participate in rail safety, and that's especially valuable now when we’re experiencing significant growth in transporting products such as crude oil by rail.
Recently, for example, a state inspector served as the team lead on a comprehensive FRA/state audit of a major tank car fleet management company. The audit identified and corrected critical flaws in procedures for maintenance facilities to qualify tank cars for service.
Last month, here in the Fast Lane readers had the rare opportunity to celebrate the 50-year anniversaries of two different legislative landmarks: the Civil Rights Act on July 2 and the Urban Mass Transportation Act on July 9. Together, these milestones transformed the way Americans freely moved about their communities.
The one-two punch of explicit civil rights protections and federal support for public transit ensured that everyone would have equal access to a city or region's transit service. And today --whether it's bus, light rail, subway, streetcar, ferry boat, or any other form of public shared transportation-- our Federal Transit Administration (FTA) plays a key role in preventing discrimination and increasing access to transit services.
FTA's Office of Civil Rights has provided outstanding leadership on this front by --among other activities-- monitoring compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; setting standards for transit agencies’ equal employment opportunity programs; and helping level the playing field so disadvantaged business enterprises have a fair opportunity to compete on federally funded transit projects.
It's that time of year again, when our kids start making their way from home to school. For those of you who are putting a child on a school bus for the very first time, I know first-hand that it can be a nerve-wracking experience. My wife and I recently put our young son on one of those big yellow buses for the very first time.
We had many questions —will he be nervous when it sinks in that we’re not getting on the bus too, will he make new friends, will he like kindergarten, and will he get a great education? Most of all, there was that feeling of powerless when he eagerly stepped aboard and waved goodbye from his seat for the very first time.
But, as a concerned dad and Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I had checked the numbers. School buses are the safest way to get to school, even safer than in the family car. And when you are sending your little one off for a first solo adventure, I hope that fact will bring you comfort...
Regular readers of the Fast Lane blog have probably heard me say that rail travel has never been safer. Accidents caused by faulty track, signal systems or equipment, and human error have decreased nearly 50 percent over the last decade to new record lows. Employee fatalities are down 59 percent over the same period. But one vexing exception to this continuous improvement exists: highway-rail grade crossing and pedestrian trespassing accidents, which together account for approximately 95% of all rail-related fatalities.
The safest crossing is one that doesn’t exist. And recently, I visited two places where our investments are funding capital improvements to eliminate crossings, make communities safer and improve their quality of life.
Last week in North Carolina I saw two of the 26 projects – all supported by our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program – that are improving safety and service between Charlotte and Raleigh. Between Lexington and Thomasville, North Carolina, workers are building two new highway bridges that will lift vehicle traffic above the tracks and enable three crossings to close. In Harrisburg, two more crossings, as you can see below, will close thanks to a new 150-foot roadway bridge.
Photo Courtesy of John D. Simmons – Charlotte Observer
Last week, I traveled to Pittsburgh to participate at this year’s North American Inspectors Championships (NAIC) and the National Truck Driving Championships hosted respectively by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the American Trucking Associations.
Earlier in the week, FMCSA Chief Safety Officer and Assistant Administrator Jack Van Steenburg kicked off the competition by recognizing the contestants’ contributions to safety and the agency’s appreciation for their professionalism.
In 2012 alone, truck and bus safety inspectors conducted 3.5 million roadside inspections all across the United States. These highly trained safety professionals are the backbone of our nation’s commercial motor vehicle safety program. Their hard work and dedication helps ensure that drivers and companies operate safely and that those that don’t are removed from the road.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of industry professionals at the Finished Vehicle Logistics Conference, where the theme of the discussion was the import and export of new cars.
I’m sure you’re wondering what vehicle logistics has to do with the Maritime Administration. And that’s a very good question.
My role at this conference highlighted the critical —yet often overlooked— fact that maritime moves America.
Yesterday, a new light rail station opened at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, making it easier for residents, commuters, and visitors to move between the airport and downtown. That’ll make North Texas more attractive and more competitive as an international destination for businesses and tourists and help the area build on the success of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART) light rail.
Earlier this year, the University of North Texas released a study that only confirms what many local have seen for themselves: in the last decade alone, the $4.7 billion that local, state, and federal partners have invested in expanding DART Rail has returned $7.4 billion in economic activity, created tens of thousands of local jobs, and supported over $3 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits.
Last week, I flew North – way North – to Alaska and visited everywhere from Anchorage to the small fishing village of Unalakleet to Nome, where the Iditarod dogsled race finishes each year.
Everywhere I went, I witnessed the natural beauty of Alaska’s terrain, but I also saw how difficult traversing that terrain can be.
All states have unique transportation needs, of course. But because of its size, its geography, and its climate, Alaska’s needs are more unique than most. And that’s what I went to discuss: How the federal government can help Alaskans meet their local needs.
Over the past week I've had the pleasure to be joined by Congressional leaders from two different states for tours of two very different --but equally impressive-- rail sites. The Amtrak maintenance site in New Jersey and the B&P Tunnel in Maryland are good demonstrations that America's railways need predictable, dedicated funding.