President Signs Railroad Safety Improvement Act Into Law

WASHINGTON – The President has signed into law the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008. National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker praised Congress and the President for passage of the bill, saying that it will help bring about safety improvements long sought by the Safety Board.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 will increase funding for Amtrak over the next five years, require new safety controls on trains that help reduce crashes, allow states to regulate solid waste processing facilities along rail lines and allocate funding for improvements to Washington’s Metro transit system.

The legislation sets “an aggressive deadline” of 2015 for implementation of positive train control (PTC) across most of the rail network, Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads previously said in a statement. Hamberger promised that “the freight railroad industry is committed to doing everything it can to ensure that PTC is implemented effectively and safely,” but admitted it would be a challenge.

“For 30 years, the NTSB has been calling for development and installation of an automatic system that would protect passengers, crew members and communities from the dangers of collisions or over-speed derailments, ” Rosenker said.  “Such a system, called Positive Train Control (PTC), will now be mandated for Class 1 railroads and passenger railroads for installation by the end of 2015.  An implementation plan is due in 18 months.  We continue to see accidents every year – such as last month’s commuter rail collision near Los Angeles – that could be prevented with such a system.

“The new law also addresses many train crew fatigue issues that the Safety Board has examined over many years, including hours of service, so-called ‘limbo time’ and work schedules.”  Railroads would have to limit shifts to 12 hours and give workers at least 10 consecutive hours off in a 24-hour period.

Another element of the law addresses the need for train crews to have emergency escape breathing apparatus in locomotives when freight trains are carrying hazardous materials that could pose a threat of inhalation damage, and strengthens track inspection requirements.

In addition, the new law has designated the NTSB as the primary agency for coordination of federal resources to assist families of passengers involved in rail passenger accidents.  The provisions of this legislation mirror those responsibilities assumed by the Board in 1996 following the passage of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act.

“I congratulate everyone in the legislative and executive branches of our federal government who had a hand in passage of this landmark legislation,” Roseker said.  “I urge everyone to begin implementing these improvements as soon as possible so that we can begin to remove some of these items from our Most Wanted list in the not-too-distant future.”