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Newly minted House bill proposes to revamp rail safety, rename FRA

Legislation that would bring sweeping reforms to railroad safety regulations and usher in a new name for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) entered the U.S. House on Tuesday.

Introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 (H.R. 2095) proposes to re-designate the FRA as the Federal Railroad Safety Administration (FRSA), which would be charged with reducing rail accidents, injuries and fatalities as its highest priority, and be required to double the number of safety inspectors from 400 to 800 by Dec. 31, 2011. The FRSA Administrator would be required to have professional experience in railroad, hazardous materials or other transportation safety.

In addition, the bill would eliminate operating crews’ “limbo” time, call for the creation of fatigue management programs, strengthen whistleblower protections, foster the implementation of positive train control, improve dark territory safety, establish training standards for all rail workers, require conductor certification, prompt a locomotive cab ergonomics study and mandate emergency breathing apparatus in all locomotive cabs.

H.R. 2095 already has elicited strong backing from rail labor unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), United Transportation Union (UTU), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and American Train Dispatchers Association.

“Many of the items contained in this sweeping legislation have been on rail labor’s most-wanted list for many years,” said BLET National President Don Hahs in a prepared statement.

Adds UTU International President Paul Thompson: “It is the strongest rail safety legislation introduced in Congress in more than three decades, and rail labor is going to work collectively and constructively to see it is passed into law with a veto-proof majority.”

The bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, which will conduct a hearing on H.R. 2095 on May 8.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/3/2007