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U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Tuesday announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at better enforcing and enhancing rail safety regulations.To be formally introduced to the Senate "shortly," the legislation would mandate the rail industry adopt several "critical, life-saving technologies," including alerters, inward and outward facing audio and image recorders, and redundant signal protection for maintenance-of-way workers, said Blumenthal in a press release.The bill also would:• require continued progress toward the federally mandated positive train control deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, and require the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Communication Commission to improve coordination so railroads can access the necessary spectrum to implement the technology;• mandate the expanded use of improved track inspection technology and processes;• enhance the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) safety oversight abilities;• significantly increase the civil penalties the FRA can impose on railroads and expand the agency's ability to enforce penalties for safety-sensitive violations;• require the FRA to finalize a rule that mandates railroads create a fatigue management plan;• direct the USDOT and FRA to develop a national close-call confidential reporting system;• require the FRA to meet deadlines and promptly address outstanding National Transportation Safety Board recommendations — including those concerning fatigue, cameras and inspection processes — by providing quarterly reports to Congress;• stipulate that the FRA strengthen ongoing oversight of MTA Metro-North Railroad; and• require stronger standards for crude tank cars, and safety measures for the transportation of crude and petroleum by rail. "Cascading catastrophic crashes, devastating derailments, serious delays and service disruptions clearly show that our rail safety protocols, standards and management are woefully insufficient," said Blumenthal. "Existing federal regulation and oversight has been shamefully inadequate, resulting in weak and ineffective fines, delayed investment in infrastructure and outdated safety protocols and technology. Our rail system has been plagued by lax and sluggish oversight, and strong federal regulation is needed now."
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