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House passes safety bill by wide margin


Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act (H.R. 2095) by a vote of 377-38 — a "veto-proof" majority, as the United Transportation Union (UTU) notes today on its Web site.

Introduced in May by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), H.R. 2095 proposes to re-designate the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as the Federal Railroad Safety Administration (FRSA), which would be charged with reducing rail accidents, injuries and fatalities as its highest priority, and be required to double the number of safety inspectors from 400 to 800 by Dec. 31, 2011. The FRSA Administrator would be required to have professional experience in railroad, hazardous materials or other transportation safety.

Additionally, the bill would reduce operating crews' "limbo" time to a maximum of 10 hours monthly, require a near-doubling of the number of FRA safety inspectors by 2011, strengthen whistleblower protections, foster the implementation of positive train control (PTC) by 2014, require mainline switching in dark territory, establish minimum and uniform training standards for all rail workers, require conductor certification, prompt a locomotive cab ergonomics study, mandate emergency breathing apparatus in all locomotive cabs and require that rail safety inspections performed in Mexico meet the same standards as those performed in the United States.

The passage of H.R. 2095 represents "the first of many legislative and bargaining victories we anticipate by combining resources and energies to benefit each of our 230,000 active members," said Mike Sullivan, who on Jan. 1, 2008, becomes general president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Workers, a combination of the UTU with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Added Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Don Hahs: "The passage of H.R. 2095 means that engineers and trainmen may eventually be paid for all of the time they spend on the job. They will also have the chance to obtain adequate rest between assignments, reducing fatigue."

Meanwhile, the Railroad Safety Enhancement Act (S. 1889) awaits Senate floor action. Introduced in July by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), chairman of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee, S. 1889 would authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to update hours-of-service rules to provide rail workers more rest time and reduce limbo time, mandate certain usage of PTC to reduce train accidents, and require states to report grade crossing protection measures to the federal government to help identify problem areas and reduce accidents risks.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/18/2007