Transit Safety Bill Introduced in House

WASHINGTON — An Obama Administration bill to give the federal government jurisdiction over transit safety was introduced last month in the House of Representatives.

Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., and Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced H.R. 4643 — known as the “Public Transportation Safety Program Act of 2010” — at the request of the Department of Transportation. The bill’s number is H.R. 4643.

“Currently, public transportation remains one of the safest modes of passenger travel,” Oberstar said. The fatality rate for rail transit systems – subways and light rail – has decreased to .002 fatalities per 100 million passenger miles, according to statistics from Oberstar.

“This is one of the lowest fatality rates of all surface transportation modes,” Oberstar said. “At the same time, Americans are riding transit at record levels. The growth in transit ridership is almost triple the growth rate of the population, and substantially more than the growth rate for vehicle miles traveled on our nation’s highways. This public transportation renaissance taking place in cities large and small across America further elevates the importance of transit safety, while also spotlighting an issue that is inextricably linked to safety – the state of good repair of public transit systems.

“Unfortunately, the state of good repair of many transit systems has not kept up with the influx of new riders. Maintenance levels at many public transit agencies have decreased to a point where older, less safe rail cars, tracks, electrical equipment, and other assets are left in service long after their useful life,” Oberstar said.

Oberstar also said that according to the Federal Transit Administration, “more than one-third of the total assets of the largest rail systems in the country are in either marginal or poor condition, and the estimated maintenance backlog for the nation’s rail transit systems exceeds $80 billion.”