Senators propose Rail Safety Improvement Act, 2014

Published: September 11, 2014

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Sept. 10 announced a comprehensive overhaul of rail safety laws and protocols to enforce and enhance safety and reliability following a series of high profile rail catastrophes in New York, Connecticut and nationwide that has undermined public trust in rail infrastructure, safety protocols, management and oversight. This legislation, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2014, will impact Long Island Railroad, Metro-North, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and other passenger railroads across the country.

Accidents, derailments and severe service disruptions, including the deadly December 2013 Spuyten Duyvil derailment, the preventable death of Metro-North worker Robert Luden in West Haven, Conn., in May 2013, the May 2013 derailment of a Metro-North train near Bridgeport that injured many and caused extensive service disruptions and delays, and the numerous catastrophic derailments and explosions of trains transporting crude oil, and other high profile rail catastrophes nationwide have exposed a glaring need for comprehensive reform of the nation’s rail safety laws and protocols.

Schumer and Blumenthal’s bill puts into law many of the recommendations found in the Federal Railroad Administration’s “Operation Deep Dive” report assessing the safety and training plans and practices by Metro-North, as well as the findings of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s own blue-ribbon panel study released last week.

“The deadly Metro North crash, plus so many others across the country, have exposed time-and-again that our passenger and freight railroads must do more to promote a ‘culture of safety’, above all other priorities,” said Sen. Schumer. “That is why Sen. Blumenthal and I have worked to develop a comprehensive rail safety bill that will take the lessons of this tragic crash, plus the expert recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board and others, and make them into tough requirements for our railroads, including a mandate for inward and outward facing cameras on all trains, new requirements for increased rail inspections, a significant boost in fines for safety violations, and more. For too long, railroads have failed to completely heed the lessons of fatal train crashes and this legislation will change that.”

“This major, comprehensive measure will help American railroads move toward 21st century safety and reliability,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “Rigorous public oversight and scrutiny are critical, and that’s where this bill begins. We must assure that safety and reliability standards receive real enforcement, not mere lip service. The watchdog agencies must bite, not just bark, and whistleblowers must be protected. We need a national rail strategy to stop the cascading catastrophes, derailments, spectacular crashes, senseless worker injuries and deaths, and needless mundane delays that all undermine public trust and confidence. This measure seeks to restore public trust and confidence and assure that railroads reflect what commuters and communities demand – safety and reliability, and on time performance, as complementary not conflicting goals. The bill also lays the groundwork for investments in important technology like positive train control (PTC) and other upgrades that are proven to save lives and enhance service. They must be followed by other investments that hopefully will gain bipartisan support, because they benefit our economy and all Americans.”

The bill will:

  • Bolster the FRA’s (FRA) oversight of our country’s rail systems by authorizing an increase in funding for FRA’s safety and operations work.
  • Require greater FRA accountability for unmet statutory mandates and open NTSB recommendations through regular quarterly reports to Congress.
  • Require the installation and implementation of technology like inward- and outward-facing cameras, alerters and redundant signal protection.
  • Strengthen FRA’s enforcement powers by increasing civil penalties for those who engage in unsafe activity. Civil penalties would be at least $13,000 and up to $500,000 for any safety sensitive violations, and a minimum of $1 million for grossly negligent violations or repeated violations that cause death or injury.
  • Improve railroad operating practices by requiring enhanced inspection practices by commuter railroads.
  • Require greater use of modern inspection technology and stepped up enforcement of speed restrictions.
  • Provide resources for passenger and commuter railroads so they can implement critical technology like PTC by December 2015 deadline.
  • Require coordination between DOT and the FCC to ensure passenger and commuter railroads have access to necessary spectrum to make PTC operate effectively.
  • Require expedited FRA action on the development of rules governing fatigue management plans for railroads.
  • Require safer operating practices for the transportation of crude oil and flammable liquids.
  • Require the national roll out of a confidential close call reporting initiative and the participation by freight, passenger and commuter railroads in the program.
  • Ensure the openness and transparency of railroad safety information.