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Bill would bolster 'weak' transit-rail safety oversight, USDOT's LaHood says

Yesterday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called on Congress to pass the Public Transportation Safety Program Act of 2009, which aims to ensure a “high and standard level” of transit-rail safety.

Recently introduced by the Obama Administration, the bill would:
• authorize the transportation secretary to establish and enforce minimum federal safety standards for all transit-rail systems;
• authorize the secretary to allow states to receive federal transit assistance to staff and train oversight personnel to enforce new federal regulations; and
• require state agencies to be financially independent from the transit systems they monitor.

The Federal Transit Administration and state agencies participating in federal transit safety enforcement would be authorized to conduct inspections, investigations, audits and examinations, as well as test public transportation systems’ equipment, facilities, rolling stock, operations and workers. They also could issue reports and subpoenas, require the production of documents, take depositions, and prescribe recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

“The current system for federal rail-transit safety oversight is weak and inadequate, and does not guarantee a consistent level of safety for transit passengers,” said LaHood in a prepared statement.

He pledged to help Congress install a new safety regime that will “better protect daily riders as transit systems age and available revenues remain tight,” said LaHood. He also announced the formation of a Transit Rail Advisory Committee on Safety, or TRACS, that will help guide the U.S. Department of Transportation’s transit-rail safety regulations.

However, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) expressed caution about a federal takeover of transit safety. Placing “safety in the hands of the federal government” actually could weaken the safety of the nation’s transit systems, said Mica, Republican Leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in a press release.

In 2008, transit systems under the State Safety Oversight system registered one fatality for every 66 million passengers, while federally regulated commuter rail recorded one death for every 5 million passengers and Amtrak registered one death for every 241,000 passengers, he said.
“Current data reveals an argument against a federal takeover of transit safety regulation,” said Mica. “We should provide dedicated federal funding to support and strengthen State Safety Offices, and make sure agencies have the proper staffing levels and necessary authorities to oversee transit safety.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/9/2009