Senate Approves Railroad Safety Enhancement Act

The U.S. Senate has approved legislation designed to make America's railroads safer for train passengers and railroad employees, as well as people who drive across or live next to railroad tracks. U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-NJ, authored and introduced the measure last year. The federal rail safety programs have not been reauthorized since 1994. Meanwhile, according to Lautenberg, 841 Americans died in railroad accidents in 2007.

"A twenty-first century rail system cannot run safely on laws from decades ago. We are risking too much by letting train crews work too long and leaving highway crossings unsafe," Lautenberg said on Friday. "We need to decrease the risks with smarter regulation and modern technology, and the Senate's passage of my bill today brings us much closer to achieving that goal."

Lautenberg said the bill--the Railroad Safety Enhancement Act of 2007--addresses three industry-wide safety concerns:

  • Employee fatigue under the “hours of service” laws: Today, train crews can work upward of 400 hours in 30 days. The bill would set new limits on the number of hours train crews can work in a month, authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to update these rules to combat employee fatigue and guarantee that employees be provided at least 10 hours off-duty within a 24-hour period. The bill also would reduce “limbo time,” or time spent traveling--or waiting to travel--to and from work an employee’s duty station before or after working.
  • New safety technology, or "Positive Train Control" (PTC): Lautenberg's bill would require railroads to address their most dangerous safety problems by using the latest safety technology. PTC systems can reduce train crashes and help save lives by automatically braking a moving train if the engineer fails to apply the brake before a stop signal, Lautenberg said. This type of technology has been on the National Transportation Safety Board's "most wanted safety improvements" list for the rail industry since 1990.
  • Grade crossing safety: Ninety-four percent of all rail-related deaths involve collisions between trains and cars at highway-rail crossings, or incidents involving people trespassing on railroads. The new bill would require states and railroads to report how highway-rail grade crossings are being protected. The legislation also would require states and railroads to help prevent deaths at or near train stations by making oncoming trains more visible to drivers and pedestrians crossing the tracks, Lautenberg said, adding that the bill requires railroads to post a toll-free phone number at grade crossings so the public can easily report safety problems, such as faulty crossing warning devices.

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