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Obama taps Joe Szabo to head FRA

(The following story by John D. Boyd appeared on the Journal of Commerce website on March 18, 2009.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Joseph C. Szabo, state lobbyist in Illinois for train conductors’ union

President Obama said he wants Joseph C. Szabo, the state legislative director in Illinois for the United Transportation Union, to head the Federal Railroad Administration.

The FRA is the federal government’s rail safety regulator, conducts research into equipment design and operating practices, and provides railroads with a range of loans and grant financial aid.

The agency also sends teams to investigate train accidents and sometimes fines carriers for violations of its safe practice standards.

The previous FRA administrator, Joseph Boardman, left that post last fall to become president and CEO of Amtrak.

UTU International President Mike Futhey said Szabo is “the first FRA administrator to come out of the ranks of rail labor. It is a validation that this Obama administration is a friend of organized labor.”

Szabo, 51, already serves on the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee that helps the agency develop regulations, the White House said.

The UTU is the nation’s largest rail union. It is built around train conductors but includes workers from some other crafts as well. As its top lobbyist in Illinois, Szabo dealt with issues involving Chicago, the largest North American rail hub city, including the state’s cross-country passenger and freight rail service.

Before his current UTU job, Szabo was mayor of Riverdale, a Chicago suburb that is home to some large rail operations, and had been a village trustee there, the White House said.

The UTU said he is “a fifth-generation railroader,” who started with the former Illinois Central system in 1976 as a switchman in the train yard, but worked several other types of rail jobs including conductor on a commuter train.

In 1984 he was elected secretary/treasurer of UTU Local 1290, and by 1996 won the legislative director position.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

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