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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Bill seeking to form short-line safety institute enters Senate


U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would authorize the formation of a Short Line Rail Safety Institute to enhance safety practices at short lines.

The legislation (S. 2478) would authorize funding to support grants for research, development, evaluation and training efforts associated with short lines. The Short Line Rail Safety Institute would assess short lines' operations and safety programs; develop best practices and work with short lines to implement the practices; foster on-site safety training for short-line employees; promote the use of safety training assets, such as locomotive simulators; help the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) implement research and development and outreach programs, and tailor such programs for short-line operations; and help short lines improve their safety culture and comply with regulatory requirements.

"Whether a train is carrying crude oil on a major rail line or on a short, local route through small towns across America, we need to make sure everyone is safe, both on the train and near the tracks," said Murray, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, in a press release. "We need to have the right policies in place to prevent accidents and respond to emergencies wherever they happen, and establishing a Short Line Rail Safety Institute is a strong step in the right direction."

On May 15, Murray and Collins sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx expressing support for the creation of a Short Line Rail Safety Institute.

"The horrific derailment that occurred in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last year … brought to light the importance of ensuring the safe transportation of energy products," said Collins, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation's ranking member. "We must ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to prevent another Lac-Mégantic, while not overburdening an industry that has a proven track record of safety."

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) in conjunction with the FRA has proposed the development of a short-line safety institute. The proposed institute is part of a safety initiative the association is working on with the FRA, U.S. Department of Transportation's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and University of Connecticut.

ASLRRA officials lauded the bill's introduction. The legislation "will do much to bring a continuous and active focus on safety with the objective of assisting individual short lines to improve their safety performance," said ASLRRA President Richard Timmons.

"Senators Collins and Murray are creating a very important tool for a very important task, and the entire short line industry will be an enthusiastic partner in this effort," he said.

As small businesses, short lines have far fewer employees than Class Is, and most short-line workers have multiple responsibilities, said Timmons, adding that a large percentage of short lines' revenue goes to track rehabilitation, which itself is a safety driver.

"The Collins/Murray initiative will help short lines to do much more and to do it much better," he said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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