On August 3, the President signed into law the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” (H.R. 1). This comprehensive piece of legislation includes significant Rail Security measures which had originally been introduced in such stand alone bills as H.R. 1269 and H.R. 1401, “The Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007.” The BLET-Teamsters Rail Conference testified numerous times on behalf of this legislation, and many of our State Legislative Board Chairmen visited DC to lobby on behalf of these bills. The new law is also a very big first step in addressing many of the concerns we raised in our High Alert report. Below are a number of the items that we specifically asked for which were included in the bill:
- $1.2 Billion in authorized funding over the next four years for general Railroad Security Enhancements
- $650 Million over the next four years for Amtrak Security Enhancements
- Requirement for the development of a “National Strategy for Railroad Transportation Security” within the next 9 months
- Requirements for Railroad Carrier Security Assessments and Plans
- Requirements for the Development and Implementation of a Railroad Security Training Program in consultation with Rail Labor
- Due Process for Railroad Workers Subject to Security Checks
- Employee Whistleblower Protections
There will be a considerable amount of additional work to do with regards to the some of the regulatory requirements the law stakes out, as well as in the appropriations process where designated money actually gets sent out and spent, but all in all, this is a strong, solid step in the right direction. It was also a major goal in our ambitious legislative agenda this year, and we have met it. It was a tough fight, but in the end a bi-partisan bill was overwhelmingly passed by both houses of Congress and was signed by the President. If throughout the summer and in the early fall, we can accomplish the same with regards to Rail Safety Legislation (H.R. 2095 & S. 1889) our membership, as well as the industry and our country will be well served.
H.R. 1401, The Rail and Public Safety Act of 2007
After six months of work, the U.S. House and Senate have overwhelmingly approved the conference report of the “9/11” legislation that Democrats introduced when they took over control of Congress in January. A conference report reconciles differences in the different versions of a bill passed by each chamber. The BLET has strongly supported the Rail Security provisions in the bill, which were originally introduced as H.R. 1401, “The Rail and Public Safety Act of 2007.” If signed into law by the President, the new law would do the following:
- Authorize funding through the Department of Transportation (DOT) to upgrade Amtrak railroad tunnels in New Jersey, New York, Washington and Baltimore to modernize safety and security standards.
- Require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct a comprehensive railroad sector risk assessment and submit prioritized recommendations for improving rail security.
- Provide grants through TSA to Amtrak, freight railroads, and others to upgrade security across the entire freight and intercity passenger railroad system.
- Provide federal whistleblower protection for rail workers who report security concerns.
- Require railroads shipping high-hazard materials to create threat mitigation plans, including plans to suspend shipments or reroute them around densely populated urban areas in times of elevated threat alert.
H.R. 2095, the Federal Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2007
On July 27, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman testified before the Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee regarding rail safety and draft legislation that when introduced, will be the Senate companion bill to H.R. 2095, The Federal Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2007.
Also appearing before the committee were Joseph Boardman, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Edward Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, and David Solow, CEO of the Southern California Regional Railroad Authority. Senators present at the hearing included Chairman Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Ranking Member Gordon Smith (R-OR), John Kerry (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and John Thune (R-SD).
The proposed Senate bill, which will be titled the Railroad Safety Enhancement Act of 2007, received general praise from Vice President Tolman, who while acknowledging that there are a number of issues that still need to be addressed in the process, stated that the legislation, “reflects an understanding of where the industry is, and where it needs to go over the next decade. It addresses many of the issues rail labor has brought to the hill, and dovetails nicely with the work undertaken by the House (H.R. 2095).”
As he has in previous testimony, Vice President Tolman re-iterated that, with regards to limbo time, we believe that the Supreme Court got it wrong in 1996 when it ruled that time spent in limbo is neither time on duty, nor time off duty, and that Congress needs to set the record straight. “We believe there should be no limbo time, except in narrow circumstances. The House has laid the foundation for further efforts to resolve this issue, and we look forward to working with the Senate on this matter.”
Vice President Tolman’s testimony also included the following with regard to proposed Senate Legislation:
- A request that the Senate consider amending a requirement for 24 hours off duty every seven days, to state that the 24 hour period is taken at an employee’s home terminal.
- Advocating for further examination of a proposed minimum 10 consecutive hours off duty every 24 hours as it affects commuter railroads, where service is heaviest during the morning and evening rush hours, and a number of assignments are for a few hours in the morning, after which employees are released for periods in excess of four hours before returning to work for a few more hours in the afternoon and early evening.
- Limiting communications to a train employee during his/her off-duty period.
- Strong Support for a 10-Hour Call pilot program, as well as the suggestion for an industry wide 10-hour call.
On July 23 and 24, the House debated the 2008 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3074), working late into the night both days. The $104.4 billion appropriations bill covers expenditures for the fiscal year 2008, which begins October 1. It passed by a vote of 268 to 153, which is enough to sustain a promised veto by the White House.
Amtrak was granted 1.4 billion, with $925 million for capital and debt service subsidies. Several amendments were offered by conservatives to cut taxpayer subsidies for Amtrak, including:
- An amendment offered by Michele Bachmann (R-MN), which would have reduced the amount provided for Amtrak operating grants by $106 million, and increase funding for Housing and Urban Development Department’s Homeless Assistance Grants. This amendment was defeated 308 to 110;
- Several amendments offered by Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the first of which would have stricken $475 million for operating subsidies for Amtrak. This Amendment was defeated by a vote of 328 to 94. The second Amendment offered by Congressman Flake would have reduced Amtrak’s capital and debt service grants by $425 million. This Amendment was defeated by a vote of 312 to 104.
- The most outrageous amendment offered was by Pete Sessions (R-TX) to bar the use of funds to support the Amtrak route with the highest loss, the Sunset Limited, according to a September 2006 Financial Performance of Routes Report. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) rose to speak against this amendment, saying, “I thought we spent most of last night on amendments to kill the operation account of Amtrak, then kill the capital account of Amtrak. The only thing that wasn’t offered was burial funds for Amtrak. Now comes the dismemberment amendment.” There are already provisions in place to review long distance routes and the ability to eliminate them if they do not live up to certain requirements. Congressman Sessions’ arguments were in part based on the Sunset Limited’s abysmal on-time record, which is due to the lack of priority access to tracks owned by Union Pacific Railroad. Perhaps Mr. Sessions should look to UP rather than blaming everything on Amtrak’s management.
Positive Train Control (PTC)
On July 27, 2007, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a $4,465,000 grant to the Railroad Research Foundation to continue development and testing of wireless communications devices and systems for use with Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) technology. CBTC is a form of Positive Train Control (PTC) that can automatically control train movements and speed to enhance safety when the locomotive engineer fails to take appropriate action. In addition to advancing technical developments, a primary aim of this grant funding is to design and build a Universal Onboard Platform that will allow a locomotive to easily switch between different PTC operating systems, or to another onboard signaling system, when it travels from one railroad network to another.