Buttigieg Emphasizes Transportation Safety at TRB

Amid Mounting Concerns, Secretary Insists Stakeholders Recommit to Delivering Highest Safety Standards
Pete Buttigieg
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pressed stakeholders to remain hyperfocused on safety while urging Congress to avert a government shutdown. (The National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine via YouTube)

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WASHINGTON — At an annual gathering of the nation’s transportation intelligentsia, Secretary Pete Buttigieg pressed stakeholders to remain hyperfocused on safety while urging Congress to avert a government shutdown.

Amid mounting concerns across modes such as aviation, railways and highways, the secretary insisted the transportation community recommit to delivering the highest standards of safety for the public. He called for industry leaders and experts to rededicate efforts and resources meant to improve connectivity for the nation’s passengers and freight.

As this year’s headliner of the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, the secretary received a favorable reception from the audience. “The whole country proudly takes note when there is so much as a close call in aviation. If we apply that same seriousness of purpose to the crisis of road safety in America that claims more than 100 lives — which is to say as many people as fill an airplane — every single day. It’s unacceptable,” he said Jan. 10.

The secretary based his remarks on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data determining nearly 43,000 individuals died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2022.

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A program meant to ensure there are no more highway fatalities is front and center for the secretary. “There is so much work to be done on the pathway to zero,” he told the TRB audience as he pointed to the Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy. The guiding document is a tool for assisting sectors with reducing fatalities. In evaluating the document’s progress last year, the secretary affirmed “people make mistakes, and, as good stewards of the transportation system, we should put in place safeguards to prevent those mistakes from being lethal. Zero is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways, and that is our ultimate goal.”

Also, with the fast-approaching anniversary of the derailment of a freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, the secretary directed his focus on Congress. Buttigieg pressed federal lawmakers to strengthen rail safety policies.

“Eleven months after East Palestine, the Railway Safety Act is still waiting,” he said. “Any member of Congress who professed interest in rail safety 11 months ago has an opportunity today to prove it by supporting the swift passage of that legislation in Congress.”

East Palestine

Buttigieg pointed out that 11 months after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the Railway Safety Act has not been passed by Congress. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

Transportation policymakers have expressed interest in the findings of an upcoming National Transportation Safety Board investigation about the derailment. The NTSB’s report is expected to be unveiled this spring. The Senate committee-passed Railway Safety Act is designed to enhance the safe transport of freight on rail lines. The bill is specific to policies at the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Meanwhile, the Senate bill awaits a floor vote. A House version has not been considered in a committee of jurisdiction. As Congress faces another government funding deadline this month, Buttigieg urged Capitol Hill leaders to avert a shutdown.

DOT’s daily operations would experience a partial shutdown and the potential for disruptions if funding legislation is not enacted by Jan. 19. Asked by reporters at the TRB conference about a government shutdown’s impact on transportation operations, Buttigieg quipped, “Well, it wouldn’t help.”


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“I mean, think about what [Federal Aviation Administration] and DOT employees have on their minds right now,” he continued. “Wondering whether they’re going to get a paycheck or whether they’re going to come to work the day after January 19 is yet another thing to worry about, which nobody needs.

“In the same way that, you know, air traffic control personnel in the towers have a very important job, and they don’t need the added stress or uncertainty of not knowing [if] they’re going to be paid on the 20th. So it’s one of many, many, many reasons why I’m hopeful that this can get resolved.”

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FAA announced Boeing 737 Max 9 planes with a plug door are grounded until the agency determines that the aircrafts are deemed safe to return to operation. On Jan. 5, an Alaska Airlines flight made an emergency landing midflight after part of its fuselage broke off.

“The FAA is requiring immediate inspections of certain Boeing 737 Max 9 planes before they can return to flight,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said Jan. 6. “Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the NTSB’s investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282.”