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Legislative Update July 2007

H.R. 2095, The Federal Safety Improvement Act of 2007

Several amendments regarding the limbo time issue were made to this bill by Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) before it passed out of the full  House Transportation and Infrastructure (T & I) Committee on June 14 by voice vote. Rather than implement an unconditional elimination of limbo time, the bill would permit it only in situations involving a casualty, accident, track obstruction, act of God, weather event delay, major equipment failure, or any other delay from a cause “unknown and unforeseeable” to a railroad carrier when the employee left a designated terminal.  In addition limbo time would be capped at 40 hours per month for the first year after the change takes effect, then reduced to 30 hours per month the second year, and 10 hours per month after the second year.  Penalties for the railroads would apply if they exceed the cap.  The bill will be considered by the full House later this year. We will keep you posted.

  1. 1438, The Railroad Crossing and Hazardous Materials Transport Safety Act of 2007

This bill, which proposes to double the number of federal safety inspectors, impose tougher penalties on rail safety violations, and direct millions of federal dollars toward rail infrastructure improvement, was introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) on May 23. It has been referred to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

H.R. 2125, the Railroad Competition and Service Improvement Act of 2007.

House T & I Committee Chairman Oberstar and Congressman Richard Baker (R-LA) introduced H.R. 2125, the Railroad Competition and Service Improvement Act of 2007. The BLET plans to evaluate the impact on this bill at this time, as its provisions could have contradictory effects on different segments of our membership.  The major point in the bill is to ensure competition in the rail industry. It charges the Surface Transportation Board (STB) with this task. It also gives the STB the ability to designate areas of inadequate rail competition and defines these areas. The bill prescribes the procedure for addressing these inadequacies and also requests that the STB file an annual report to Congress. Additionally, the bill establishes an Office of Rail Customer Advocacy to act on the behalf of railroad customers.

H.R. 2701, The Transportation Energy Security and Climate Change Mitigation Act of 2007

This legislation, a broad ranging bill to help promote energy security and reduce greenhouse emissions, affects programs in almost every area over which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has jurisdiction. The bill was passed by the Committee on June 20. Rep. Prior to the vote, John Boozman (R-AR), had offered an amendment to this bill that would suspend the 35-year-old law that gives Amtrak first right of access to the tracks owned by freight rail companies, a right of access for which Amtrak pays freight railroads handsomely . This action would virtually ruin Amtrak outside the Northeast. Boozman said his intent was to prevent Amtrak trains carrying only a few passengers from using priority status to delay a fully loaded freight train. Our members were asked to contact their representatives who are members of the committee, urging them to vote against the Boozman amendment. Boozman was persuaded to withdraw his motion and will instead request the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on Amtrak’s priority access to freight rail within its corridors.

Employee Free Choice Act, S.1041

On June 26, a handful of obstructionist senators blocked the vote on HR 800, the Employee Free Choice Act. This legislation garnered majority support of 51-48 in the Senate, but 60 votes were required to block Republican opposition and gain passage. Although the vote fell short, it is still encouraging to realize that, for the first time in a generation, a majority of the U.S. Senate, including seven presidential candidates, voted for workers’ rights.

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