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Legislative Update May 2007

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

For the first time in a very long time, it looks like some of the safety issues we’ve been fighting to correct for years may actually see the light of day.  On May 1st, Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) and Rep Corinne Brown (D-FL) introduced H.R. 2095.  On May 8th, BLET National Legislative Rep. John Tolman testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, praising “the most comprehensive bill introduced in Congress since the 1976 safety authorization legislation.

Highlights of the bill include:

  • Elimination of limbo time for operating crews;
  • Creation of fatigue management programs, a guarantee of 10 hours undisturbed rest, and a guarantee of one 24-hour off-duty period every 7 days;
  • Increased whistleblower protections – under these enhanced protections, a worker may refuse to authorize the use of equipment the employee reasonable believes to be unsafe or hazardous to operate or work with;
  • Implementation of positive train control;
  • Improved safety for dark territory operations (those without signal systems that still operate on track warrants);
  • Training standards for all railroad workers;
  • Certification of train conductors;
  • A study of locomotive cab ergonomics;
  • Requirement for emergency breathing apparatus in all locomotive cabs; and
  • Regulations addressing the harassment and intimidation of rail workers who report personal injuries.

The bill also re-designates the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as the Federal Railroad Safety Administration (FRSA), clarifying that safety is the highest priority of the FRSA.  The bill also calls for the number of safety inspectors to double, from 400 to 800 by the end of 2011.

While this bill goes farther than any rail safety bill in recent history, there is still room for improvement in areas such as the qualifications of FRA Administrators, and the FRAs lack of due diligence in meeting statutory deadlines for issuing regulations.  Also not addressed was credible training and certification of crews handling hazardous materials, and the issue of venue in lawsuits filed against the carriers, among others.  Hopefully, the Committee will address concerns raised by rail labor and when the final bill is voted out of committee, it will be a bill which truly addresses the issues without giving railroads special treatment.

Please contact your member of Congress and ask for their support of this long overdue and much needed legislation.

Employee Free Choice Act, H.R. 800/S. 1041.

Since being placed on the Senate Calendars Committee, H.R. 800, the bill filed to make it organizing unions easier, hasn’t seen much movement.  H.R. 800 has 233 co-sponsors, and S. 1041, the bill filed in the Senate by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has 46 co-sponsors.

Please call your Senator as soon as possible and ask them to support this issue and to allow the bill to come up for vote.

The Surface Transportation and Rail Security Act of 2007, S. 184.

There has been no activity on this bill since the Committee Report was filed on March 1st.  We will continue to keep you posted when movement occurs.

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