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Sens. Schumer, Blumenthal call for more FRA funding

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is “woefully underfunded” and lacks the resources necessary to fully evaluate existing and future rail-safety programs at the nation’s freight and passenger railroads, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a joint statement issued yesterday.

In the wake of MTA Metro-North Railroad’s fatal train derailment earlier this month, the FRA lacks the funds it needs to inspect 99 percent of the nation’s rails and to sufficiently prepare to oversee future rail-safety programs, they said.

In response, the senators intend to seek additional funds for the FRA in the fiscal-year 2014 appropriations bill so the agency can hire 45 additional inspectors. A budget sequester cut $9 million from the FRA’s budget in FY2013. The inspectors will be dedicated to inspecting rail and evaluating railroad safety protocols and infrastructure around the country.

The senators are asking Congress to meet President Obama’s full request of $185 million for safety and operations, an increase of about $15 million over this year’s sequestered budget. Although the FRA does not seek to inspect 100 percent of railroads — that task is shared by states and the railroads — additional funding would enable the FRA to “dramatically” increase the percentage of its inspections and spot checks, the senators said.

The senators decided to seek the additional FRA funds after a briefing with federal railroad safety officials, who revealed the agency’s lack of funding for safety evaluation.

"If we want to prevent tragic accidents like the one we just saw in New York, we have to make sure that the agency responsible for rail safety in this country is not woefully underfunded," said Schumer.  "This month's derailment should serve as a wakeup call, reminding us that we need to dedicate real resources to the railroads’ main oversight agency so they can hire enough inspectors to ensure the safety of rail passengers across the country."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/17/2013