Senate Passes Rail Safety and Amtrak Bills

October 1, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate today passed H.R. 2095, which includes the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. The vote was 74 to 24. The bill will now be sent to the President.

H.R. 2095 reauthorizes both the Federal rail safety programs and Amtrak for five years. These programs were last reauthorized more than 10 years ago, 11 years for Amtrak and 14 years for rail safety, and have been funded since without updated guidance from Congress. H.R. 2095 is a bipartisan compromise bill that is very similar to bills both the Senate and the House passed by large margins.

“Every day, millions of American travelers and consumers benefit from the services provided by our nation’s passenger and freight railroads,” said Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “And of course, the highest priority of these railroads must be safety. I am pleased that the years of bipartisan effort to reauthorize Amtrak and rail safety have come to a successful conclusion and Congress has passed this bill to both improve railroad safety and expand the Amtrak system. I call upon the President to do what is right for America’s traveling public and railroad workers and sign this bill into law.”

Highlights of the legislative package are below:

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008:

•    Mandates by 2015 the use of positive train control (PTC) systems that can prevent train collisions on railroad main lines over which passenger trains and trains carrying toxic-by-inhalation hazardous material travel, requiring that high-risk lines are equipped first.   
•    Authorizes $250 million in federal grants for PTC installation and other new safety technology.
•    Revises the hours of service limits for train crews, requiring an uninterrupted off-duty period of 10 hours between shifts, a total monthly cap of 276 work and travel hours, and two consecutive days off for train workers after six days of consecutive work, creating the first mandatory “weekend” for railroad employees.
•    Requires risk-based safety programs for all major railroads, commuter railroads, and railroads with poor safety records to prevent fatalities, injuries, and accidents, including development of fatigue mitigation plans and technology implementation plans.
•    Increases funding for federal rail safety efforts and funds more federal rail safety inspectors and personnel.
•    Enhances highway-rail grade crossing safety efforts, including public education and enforcement programs, and encourages the development and installation of safety technology at crossings.
•    Requires minimum training standards for all safety-related railroad employees and certification of train conductors.   
•    Enhances the Federal Railroad Administration’s enforcement tools, increases the maximum civil penalty for safety violations to $100,000, and requires more transparency into its enforcement process.
•    Protects railroad employees by requiring that emergency escape hoods be kept on trains carrying toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials, ensuring that employees receive prompt medical attention when injured, and requires a study and report on the extent of railroad employee exposure to radiation.
•    Expands federal loan guarantee authority for rail infrastructure improvements, including PTC systems.
•    Creates a National Transportation Safety Board office to coordinate and assist families of passengers following rail disasters.
•    Allows state environmental and public health regulation of rail facilities that process solid waste.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008:

•    Authorizes $13 billion over five years for federal passenger rail programs, including expansion of Amtrak.
•    Of  the total authorizations, creates and authorizes $1.9 billion in funds for a competitive state grant program for rail development projects, including those to relieve congestion, with 20 percent state match requirement.
•    Requires significant reforms at Amtrak, including restructuring the Board of Directors, improved accounting of its expenses, and standards for service and on-time performance.
•    Requires a collaborative plan for bringing the Northeast Corridor up to a state-of-good repair by 2018.
•    Of the total authorizations, establishes a $1.5 billion grant program for states or Amtrak for construction of and equipment for high-speed rail projects in any of the 11 designated high-speed rail corridors.
•    Creates an effective process for resolution of disputes between freight railroads and Amtrak when freight railroads delay Amtrak trains and permits fines to be assessed for such delays.
•    Requires Amtrak to provide a plan to comply with disability accessibility standards at stations and authorizes funding for such improvements.
•    Permits the Secretary to recommend to Congress proposals for the development of private high-speed rail lines.
•    Contains a provision to authorize $1.5 billion over 10 years for rehabilitation of Washington Metro’s rail transit system, which is similar to a bill sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), John Warner (R-Va.), and Jim Webb (D-Va.).