All this activity hasn't come without its share of detractors - those that claim spending this much money on rail is a giant "boondoggle." Controversy surrounds several of the rail projects awarded stimulus funds, including calls to give the money back to the FRA or be allowed to spend it on highways. [Joe Szabo]'s response to this criticism is as simple as it is succinct - if you don't want it give it back.
Grand COVER STORY Images courtesy of the Federal Railroad Administration. 8 June 2010 • MassTransit • www.MassTransitmag.com Vision By Fred Jandt Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo speaks candidly on his past, stimulus funding, Amtrak and the vision of future of rail in the United States. S Since joining Mass Transit, I’ve interviewed the heads of some of the largest tran- sit authorities in North America. Despite that, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I found myself in the office of Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo. With the increased interest in passenger rail in the United States, I thought it was time to get information from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Szabo’s Federal Railroad Administra- tion (FRA) oversaw the granting of $8 billion in federal stimulus funds ear- lier this year and is likely to give even more as it looks to bring President Obama’s vision of high-speed rail in the United States to fruition. I expected your usual conversation with a politician — dancing around questions and not giving real answers — but instead found Szabo didn’t shy away from anything asked. In fact, he was open and candid with his re- sponses, including his feelings about high-speed rail’s detractors. RAILROAD IN THE BLOOD As Administrator Szabo describes it he has a “very zig-zag background,” but one steeped in the rail industry. Szabo is a fifth-generation railroad- er whose father spent 40 years as a switchman for the Illinois Central railroad, now a part of the Canadian National Railway. As with too many 9 COVER STORY volunteers. Mom and Dad were civically active, so it was just one of those core family values.” Szabo spent two terms as a local of- ficer before moving onto a statewide position, “I was elected state legisla- tive director for the union, which was a full-time position, so I went on leave of absence from Metra at that time.” While expanding his railroad industry
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