February 10, 2018 / 9:55 PM / 7 months ago

U.S. rail official steps down after questions raised over outside work

WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) - A senior Trump administration rail safety official resigned on Saturday after questions were raised about whether he was conducting outside work after taking the post, the U.S. Transportation Department said.

The department said in a statement Saturday that Heath Hall, who had served as the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) acting administrator until last month, had resigned “effective immediately.”

The department added it “was unaware of the information that is being reported regarding outside work Heath Hall took on during his time at FRA, but those allegations, if true, are troubling.”

Politico reported Saturday it had raised questions about whether Hall was simultaneously working as a public relations consultant for a Mississippi sheriff’s department.

Hall, who started work in June as deputy FRA administrator and served as acting administrator for more than six months, took a leave of absence last month for family reasons.

In January, FRA chief counsel Juan Reyes was named acting deputy administrator and has been running the agency on a day-to-day basis.

According to Hall’s financial disclosure report reviewed by Reuters, Hall agreed his “individually owned consulting business...will remain dormant during federal service.” Politico quoted a former FRA official who said that Hall was continuing to receive calls about the sheriff’s department while at the federal agency.

Hall could not immediately be reached Saturday.

During Hall’s tenure at the Federal Railroad Administration, there were a number of high-profile rail crashes.

In December, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urged the nation’s railroads and transit agencies to take all possible measures to meet deadlines to install a safety system called positive train control to prevent crashes.

Since then, FRA officials have held meetings with at least 29 transit agencies and railroads to discuss the status of the technology designed to prevent derailments or crashes caused by excessive speed.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee plans to hold a hearing Thursday on the status of PTC efforts, including Amtrak’s chief executive and Reyes.

Republicans complain Senate Democrats have delayed a vote for months on the nomination of Ronald Batory, a former Conrail president, to head the FRA after he was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in August. (Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft)

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