- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

PALO ALTO, CALIF. (AP) - Claude Brinegar, who as U.S. transportation secretary led an overhaul of the railroad industry and pushed for energy conservation in response to the oil crisis of 1973, has died. He was 82.

Brinegar died Friday of natural causes at Classic Hyatt Care Center in Palo Alto, according to his daughter Claudia Berglund. He was a resident of Menlo Park and Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

President Richard Nixon nominated Brinegar to become the nation’s third transportation secretary in late 1972. At the time, Brinegar was a senior vice president at Union Oil Co., where he had worked since 1953.

During his tenure as secretary, Brinegar led efforts to overhaul the collapsed Northeastern railroad industry, ultimately resulting in the creation of Conrail Inc. He served as a founding director of Conrail from 1974 to 1975 and joined the board again from 1990 to 1998. He served on the board of CSX Corp., which acquired part of Conrail, until 2002.

Brinegar headed the Transportation Department during the oil crisis of 1973, when Middle East oil producers blocked shipments to the U.S. in response to the country’s support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Nixon signed the highly unpopular 55 mph national speed limit into law in response to the crisis. The limit was repealed in 1995.

The crisis also pushed Brinegar to become an advocate for energy conservation. He helped shepherd federal highway funds into mass transit and alternative transportation projects.

Brinegar stayed on as secretary for six months after Nixon’s resignation. He left his post after President Gerald Ford announced plans to run for president to avoid being a part of an election campaign.

The California native was born Claude Rawles Stout on Dec. 16, 1926, in Rockport. His childhood was marked by frequent moves throughout Northern California while his stepfather, Butler Brinegar, worked for the Works Progress Administration.

Brinegar served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Japan and Korea from 1945 to 1947 before receiving three degrees from Stanford University, including a doctorate in applied economics.

After his stint as secretary, Brinegar returned to Union Oil, later renamed Unocal Corp. He retired from the company as executive vice president and chief financial officer in 1992. He was vice chairman of the company’s board until 1995.

Brinegar is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son from a previous marriage and four grandchildren.

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