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Rail News: Safety

Rail safety a hot topic at Senate transportation subcommittee hearing

Critical safety measures must advance to improve rail safety in Minnesota and across the nation, said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) during her testimony yesterday at a hearing on transportation safety and effectiveness conducted by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security.

Klobuchar stressed the need to implement "commonsense reforms" to help strengthen rail infrastructure and protect communities near rail lines following recent derailments in North Dakota and Canada involving crude oil, according to a press release.

"With more and more freight train traffic on our rail lines, improving our rail infrastructure and ensuring the safety of our tracks can’t just be an afterthought – it must be a priority," she said.

Klobuchar recently sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee calling for increased funding for additional rail inspectors and a stronger inspection process. In March, she helped prompt a Senate Commerce Committee hearing with federal rail officials and experts where she discussed how recent train derailments underscored a need to advance critical safety measures.

During his testimony at the June 3 hearing, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said the Obama administration's proposed GROW AMERICA Act would help improve the safety of rail-transported hazardous materials. The $302 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill was introduced in April.

The act would advance positive train control (PTC) implementation as quickly and safely as possible; establish grant programs for rail safety improvements and mitigation measures for communities experiencing increased freight traffic; and prompt more research and development (R&D) to advance next-generation rail safety technologies, such as automatic track inspection systems, said Szabo. The R&D component would include improvements to the Transportation Technology Center Inc. in Pueblo, Colo., for training first responders and conducting research projects to improve rail safety, he said.

Overall, the GROW AMERICA Act would provide predictable, dedicated funding to enhance safety and modernize rail infrastructure to meet growing market demand, as well as promote innovation and ensure transparency and accountability, said Szabo. The legislation would provide $19 billion over four years to improve rail safety and invest in a national high-performance rail system since states and local communities need the certainty of sustained funding to make necessary transportation investments, he said.

"The act also builds on current investments to vastly improve the system in areas ranging from PTC implementation to enhancing flexibility in financing programs that will better enable the rehabilitation of aging infrastructure," said Szabo. "The GROW AMERICA Act charts a bold new course for transportation infrastructure investment in the United States."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/4/2014