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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Sens. Schumer, Blumenthal unveil Rail Safety Improvement Act


U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Sunday unveiled their proposed Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2014 that aims to address issues stemming from high-profile passenger-rail accidents in New York and Connecticut, including the fatal MTA Metro-North Railroad crash near the Bronx, N.Y., that occurred in December 2013.

The legislation would implement a blue ribbon panel's rail safety improvement recommendations related to the Metro-North accident, including mandated inward and outward facing cameras, increased track inspections and fines up to $1 million for safety violations. The proposed law also would reaffirm the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline for positive train control (PTC) implementation, and increase funding for and frequency of rail inspections and security personnel, the senators said in a press release.

The bill would impact all freight and passenger railroads, including Metro-North, MTA Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak. It also "finally gives teeth" to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety recommendations "that railroads ignore far too often at the peril of New York City, Long Island and Connecticut commuters' safety," the senators said.

Schumer and Blumenthal's bill would adopt many of the recommendations found in the Federal Railroad Administration's "Operation Deep Dive" report assessing Metro-North's safety and training plans and practices, as well as the findings of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's own Blue Ribbon Panel study released last week.

"The deadly Metro-North crash, plus so many others across the country, have exposed time-and-again that our passenger and freight railroads must do more to promote a culture of safety, above all other priorities," Schumer said.

Added Blumenthal: "Rigorous public oversight and scrutiny are critical, and that's where this bill begins. We must assure that safety and reliability standards receive real enforcement, not mere lip service."

Among other provisions, the bill would:
• bolster the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) oversight by authorizing an increase in funding for its safety and operations work;
• require greater FRA accountability for unmet statutory mandates and open NTSB recommendations through regular quarterly reports to Congress;
• strengthen the FRA’s enforcement powers by increasing civil penalties for those who engage in unsafe activities;
• require coordination between the USDOT and Federal Communications Commission to ensure passenger railroads have access to necessary spectrum to make PTC operate effectively;
• require expedited FRA action on the development of rules governing fatigue management plans for railroads;
• require safer operating practices for the transportation of crude oil and flammable liquids; and
• require the national roll out of a confidential close-call reporting initiative and participation by freight and passenger railroads.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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