Resignation of FRA Official Heath Hall Raises Ethical Concerns

The Federal Railroad Administration is responsible for safety on the railroads. However, in an era of frequent train crashes its role is being questioned as well as that of FRA official Heath Hall who recently resigned.

Hall is the former deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. He resigned his position over the weekend amid concerns about “outside work” he took on while he was in the position.

The Washington Post reported an ethics group submitted a letter to the Department of Justice Tuesday requesting an investigation into Hall.

The Campaign for Accountability said the department should look at whether Hall violated federal criminal law by filing a public financial disclosure report in which he allegedly falsely claimed he would not be receiving outside income.

Resignation of FRA official Heath Hall
Concerns over Resignation of FRA official Heath Hall

The group is claiming Strategic Marketing Group, a public relations firm where Hall served as president, continued to receive thousands of dollars in money while Hall was a senior official in the rail safety agency.

In August, Hall was apparently quoted by Mississippi television station WJTV as a representative of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department.

No employee appointed by the president to a full-time position in the executive branch is allowed to receive earned income for outside employment.

Slate noted Hall found time to appear at least twice in local news segments on behalf of a sheriff’s department in Mississippi, where his public relations and the political consulting firm is based.

Aside from the ethical considerations of this scenario, it’s disturbing that FRA official Heath Hall was working in another capacity when safety on the railroad should have been his top consideration.

Hall was in charge of Amtrak, a company involved in three serious crashes since December. The Government has yet to make a full-time appointment.

Earlier this month, an Amtrak train crashed into a CSX train in South Carolina, killing two crew members and injuring more than 100.

Federal investigators are investigating how CSX crews routed the Amtrak train into a parked freight train in Cayce, SC.

Although CSX may be to blame, Amtrak is likely to end up paying crash victims’ legal claims with public money, reported CNBC.

The report said Amtrak pays up for accidents it was not to blame for because of agreements between the passenger rail company, which takes more than $1 billion annually in federal subsidies, and the private railroads, the owners of 97 percent of the tracks on which Amtrak travels.

CNBC pointed to the secretive nature of these agreements. Amtrak officials point out the passenger train company generally bears the full cost of damages to its trains, employees, passengers, and other crash victims, even if a freight rail company was responsible for a wreck due to negligence or misconduct.

The furor concerning FRA official Health Hall comes at a time when CSX’s safety record has deteriorated, a metric provided by the Federal Railroad Administration reveals.

Since 2013, CSX’s rate of major accidents per million miles traveled rose by more than half, from 2 to 3.08 — significantly higher than the industry average. Rail passenger advocates said they were concerned after the CSX CEO at that time pushed hard last year to alter freight routes.

The FRA has much to do to improve safety for railroad workers and passengers alike. If you were injured on the railroad, please call me at (757) 455-0077.

John Cooper