Senate Passes Smith Rail Safety Legislation
Today the Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation authored by Senators Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that will drastically improve rail safety. The Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act will boost railroad safety programs already in place and implement new reforms to better protect passengers, railroad employees and the public. The bill also reauthorizes Amtrak for five years, provides additional funding to expand its service, and requires Amtrak to conduct a study to determine whether to reinstate service along the Pioneer Route.
"This legislation will modernize rail safety programs and help prevent disasters like the horrific train accident in Southern California earlier this month from occurring again," said Smith. "We should now have the resources to implement crucial changes that will make our railroads safer and more reliable and ultimately save lives."
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which is responsible for inspecting the nation's 219,000 miles of rail tracks in operation, is only able to inspect about 0.2 percent of railroad operations each year. Smith and Lautenberg's legislation provides the FRA with more resources to inspect railroads and related infrastructure and put additional rail safety mechanisms in place.
To prevent train-to-train collisions and over-speed derailments, the Senators' bill requires that all mainline tracks carrying passengers or dangerous chemicals be equipped with Positive Train Control systems, which can stop a train automatically if it's headed for a collision. In addition, the legislation addresses rail employee fatigue by placing additional limits on the number of hours an employee can work in a given month and increasing the amount of rest required.
Other key provisions to improve rail safety include:
- Creates a Rail Safety Risk Reduction Program - The bill directs the Secretary to implement and complete a program geared at systematically identifying railroad safety risks and then developing a strategy to manage those risks and improve safety.
- Boosts FRA's workforce - To ensure sufficient safety inspections, the bill directs the FRA to focus on hiring employees to inspect railroads, bridges, tunnels and related infrastructure.
- Improves the Safety of Highway-Rail Crossings - This provision requires the ten states that have the highest number of highway-rail crossing accidents to develop a plan with specific solutions for improving safety.
- Provides Grants for Technology and Infrastructure Improvement- The bill requires the establishment of grant programs to accelerate the deployment of new technologies and to improve the safety of rail equipment, track, bridges, tunnels and other facilities.
On August 1st, the Senate passed rail safety legislation (H.R.2095) with a substitute amendment authored by Smith and Lautenberg. Since then, the Senators have worked with their House colleagues to reconcile the two versions and develop final legislation. The bill will now be sent to the President's desk for his signature before it becomes final law.