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10/17/2008



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Rail safety bill, passenger rail act become law


The most comprehensive rail safety legislation proposed in more than 30 years is now law. Yesterday, President Bush signed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 2095/S. 1889).

The law will tighten rail worker training standards, require conductor certification, and mandate installation of positive train control on lines used for passenger trains and to move hazardous materials no later than 2015.

H.R. 2095 also will create a new high-level chief safety officer position within the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), add 200 federal rail safety inspectors and require the USDOT to develop a long-term strategy for improving rail safety, including an annual plan for reducing the number and rates of rail accidents, injuries and fatalities.

In addition, the law reauthorizes the federal rail safety program through 2011 and enables the Federal Railroad Administration to regulate rail workers' hours of service to address fatigue; addresses the need for train crews to have emergency escape breathing apparatus in locomotives when trains carry toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials; and designates the National Transportation Safety Board as the primary agency for coordinating federal resources to assist families of riders involved in passenger-rail accidents.

Meanwhile, H.R. 2095 companion bill the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 reauthorizes Amtrak for five years at a total of $13 billion. Amtrak's previous authorization expired in 2002. During the next five years, Amtrak will receive $2.9 billion in operating subsidies and $5.3 billion for capital projects, such as new cars and infrastructure upgrades. The national intercity passenger railroad also will receive $1.9 billion to develop new state passenger-rail corridors.

In addition, the law requires the USDOT to solicit proposals for 11 congressionally approved high-speed rail corridors nationwide: the Florida Corridor; Southeast Corridor; Gulf Coast Corridor; Northeast Corridor; California Corridor; Empire Corridor; Pacific Northwest Corridor; South Central Corridor; Chicago Hub Network; Keystone Corridor; and Northern New England Corridor.

The USDOT will convene commissions of stakeholders — including governors, mayors, railroad and Amtrak officials, and rail labor union representatives — to review proposals and report recommendations to Congress.


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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