Brock Adams, the Cabinet officer once considered a certain candidate for extinction, is acting more like a permanent fixture as secretary of transportation.

A good legislative record and a quiet chat with President Carter seem to have made the difference.

After more than a year of rumours and published reports that he was held in low esteem at the White House and was high on the list of potential Cabinet victims, Adams asked shortly after last month's election to meet with the President.

As Adams recalled the meeting:

"I said to the president, 'I think you ought to look at what we have done. . . I think we had a very good two years. . .That's my perception. What is more important is yours, and if you'd like me to go, fine, I've got a lot of things I can do.'"

Adams said the president told him, "I think you've done very well and I like the way [the department] is run."

Ever since, Adams has been more visible, more active and more confident.

"There's just no question in our minds that he's going to be around running the place," a knowledgeable airline industry official said.

That assessment is shared in the Executive Office Building and on Capitol Hill, and by representatives of other transportation industries, some of whom are unhappy with Adams.

The principal reason for Adams' apparent resurrection is his record with Congress. By the time Congress adjourned, the Department of Transportation had done as well as anybody and better than most.

Airline deregulation, on of Carter's top priorities, had passed with Adam's help. For the first time, barge operators will have to pay to use U.S. waterways. The biggest mass transit program in U.S. history was approved, and it was combined with a highway program that points toward completing the interstate system and concentrating on reconstructing existing roads, rather than building new ones.

Adams, a child of Congress and the very successful first chairman of the House Budget Committee, was able to delvier in the are he knew best.

"despite that complaining you heard about the legislative effort up here," a transit lobbyist said, "people on the Hill like Brock and don't want to screw him."

The secretary's new confidence has shown up in several recent actions.

He has told both the highway and transit communities that he intends to merge them at the federal level-a proposal that most neutral observes of the department regard as long overdue, but difficult to pull off.

He went to Detroit and challenged the automobile industry "to do nothing less than reinvent the car." Current fuel economy efferots with current technology are not going to meet the long-range energy needs of the country, Adams said.

("We agreew" an auto industry insider said. "All we have to do is make the car small and light a nd put a small engine in it. But will it sell? Adams might just as well have called a meeting and told us to cure cancer.")

Adams went to Hershey. Pa., and told the assembled wheels of the American railroad industry what they wanted to hear: "We must free the rail industry from an overegulated system that is unfair, outdated and unbelievably cumbersome."

Adams took on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Douglas M. Costle at a recent Cabinet meeting. The subject: interference by a regional EPA administrator in an already decided issue., the WestWay freeway in New York City. Adams has reaffirmed a decision to provide federal money for Westway, and EPA participated in that decision, he said.

"I think it is bad government" for federal agencies to be reopening an old subject, he said.

Adams is credited by many in the transit industry with having played a major role in getting rapid transit programs in the big cities moving again. The harsh criticism of transit generally and rail systems in particular has eased somewhat from the early days of the Carter administration.

In addition to the highly visible Washington Metro program, which has federal blessing once again, new rail lines are under construction or in planning in Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, New York and San Diego. The sniping at Adams appears to have subsided. It was always suspected, but never proven, that most of the criticism came from the White House staff.

"Anytime you have a strong Cabinet officer you always have friction with White House staff people," Adams said. "It's just the name of the game and I was frustrated about all this going on."

An informed White House official said "my view is that Adams has always been in a good position. His relationship with the president is stronger than some people have suspected and stronger than it is with some people at the White House." CAPTION:

Picture, Adams: "I said to the president, 'I think you ought to look at what we've done...'" By James K. W. Atherton-The Washington Post