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Images courtesy of the Federal Railroad Administration.
       8       June 2010 • MassTransit •
                                            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


                                                                                                                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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