Rail Imminent Hazard Maximum Penalty Rising to $100,000

The most severe violations of U.S. rail safety regulations will carry a heavy penalty next year. The Federal Railroad Administration is raising its ordinary maximum and aggravated maximum penalties to amounts authorized by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008: The minimum civil penalty per violation will go from $550 to $650, the ordinary maximum civil penalty per violation from $16,000 to $25,000, and the aggravated maximum civil penalty per violation where a grossly negligent violation or pattern of repeated violations has created an imminent hazard of death or injury will go from $27,000 to $100,000.

The final rule will take effect March 2.

Congress passed the 2008 law to put more teeth into penalties for violations that contribute to railroad fatalities, injuries, and hazardous materials releases, and President George W. Bush signed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 into law Oct. 16, 2008. The law specifically authorizes penalty assessments up to $100,000 in instances where grossly negligent violations occur.

The agency said it issued the rule without providing a notice of proposed rulemaking or an opportunity for public comment because the law meant FRA did not exercise discretion in raising the penalties in a way that could be informed by public comment.

The rule applies to all future rail safety civil penalty cases that occur on or after the effective date of March 2, 2009. For more information, contact Stephen N. Gordon, a trial attorney in FRA's Office of Chief Counsel (phone 202-493-6001, e-mail stephen.n.gordon@dot.gov).

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