Some Say Rail Safety Bill Focuses More on Appeasing Labor Than on Most Effective Safety Improvements

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation to reauthorize the Federal Railroad Administration and fund federal rail safety programs for the next four years.

The Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 renames the agency the “Federal Railroad Safety Administration” and seeks to address a number of issues pertaining to employee fatigue, grade crossing safety, employee training and positive train control.

The bill passed the House by a 377-38 vote.

“I am concerned that this rail safety bill concentrates too much on accommodating a big labor wish list rather than on the most effective means to improve rail safety,” said U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), the Republican leader of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Ninety-seven percent of rail fatalities involve grade crossing accidents and trespassers, but unfortunately this bill focuses primarily on the other 3 percent of fatalities that occur.

“The bill contains a mandate that will cost the private sector billions of dollars to implement in order to prevent less than ten fatalities per year. Perhaps some of these billions would save more lives if they were invested in making grade crossings safer and preventing trespasser deaths,” Mica added. “The bill also nearly doubles the number of federal safety inspectors. While initially this may appear to guarantee safer rails, it’s unclear whether this increase will actually have any positive effect on safety.

“Although this is not a perfect bill, this is an important step towards improving the safety and operations of the nation’s railroads. This legislation contains provisions to address worker fatigue and hours of service reforms and authorizes funding to make critical safety improvements at rail grade crossings,” Mica said. “Through extensive negotiations, we finally agreed upon a gradual phase-down of limbo time. Hopefully, this phase-down will reduce worker fatigue without disrupting rail operations and increasing congestion. I look forward to working with my House and Senate colleagues in conference to build upon the strengths of this legislation and improve the safety of our railways nationwide.”