Smith-Lautenberg Rail Safety Legislation Signed by President
The President signed legislation yesterday authored by Senators Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that will drastically improve the safety of our nation's railroads. 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 passenger rail 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 last month that claimed 25 lives," said Smith. "This bill provides the resources and the mandate to implement crucial reforms that will make our railroads safer and more reliable. And to better connect the Pacific Northwest, important funding is provided in this legislation to study the possibility of restoring service along the Pioneer Route."
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. The new law authorizes $1.6 billion for rail safety programs through 2013.
To prevent train-to-train collisions and over-speed derailments, the Senators' bill requires that by 2015 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. The National Transportation Safety Board has stated that such a system could have prevented the September 12 accident that killed 25 people in Los Angeles.
In addition, the legislation addresses rail employee fatigue by placing new limits on the number of hours an employee can work in a given month and increasing the amount of rest required. The new law caps the number of hours train crews can work each month at 276. It also gives the Federal Railroad Administration regulatory authority to limit the number of hours an employee can work based on fatigue science to improve safety. Under an outdated law, train crews can currently work more than 400 hours per month.
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.