Legislative Update September 2015


By Kathleen Bisbikis, National 2nd Vice President, National Legislative Rep, BLET Auxiliary

Below are some of the most recent news items that affect all of us. Please feel free to share these with your local auxiliary. If you have information you would like to share with me for future updates, please send it to me at bletauxilliarylr@gmail.com.

Oregon, Washington & Pennsylvania Adopt New Safety Rules

At times, one simply has to take things into one’s own hands, and that is what several states are doing to protect their citizens from the potential disaster that can be caused by an oil train moving through the state.

Washington has implemented a four-cent-per-barrel tax on oil moved by train through their state to cover the cost of cleanup of any potential spills. Also, freight train companies are required to notify emergency personnel whenever oil trains pass through their communities.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf asked expert Allen Zarembski for recommendations on how to improve safety measures in his state. Pennsylvania typically handles 60-70 oil trains a week. Professor Zarembski suggests that railroads focus on faulty track and equipment. He reported that, “most major derailments in recent years were caused by faulty track or broken equipment, not human error.”

The Oregon Transportation Commission has also updated its state’s rules for the transportation of hazardous materials. Oregon will be adding an additional four new rail inspectors, bringing its total to 11. Emergency responders will get immediate notification about the type, quantity, and placement of hazardous materials on the train. In addition, the Oregon Department of Transportation can now fine railroads up to $1000 per day if they are not in compliance with these new rules. Oregon chose to add more rail inspectors because, like Pennsylvania, they believe that track-related defects are the most common cause of derailments.

Positive Train Control (PTC)

Senate votes to delay PTC deadline: The U.S. Senate voted in late July to extend the time allowed for railroads to install positive train control (PTC) by another three years. The PTC system, had it been operational, could have averted the deadly Amtrak crash that took place earlier this year in Philadelphia. A Senate Commerce Committee memo said the deadline was “not feasible for the vast majority of freight and commuter railroads.”

“This is a transportation bill that ignores the transportation crisis in this country,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “It disregards what we learned after the horrible train crash in Philadelphia by delaying implementation of positive train control, which we know would have prevented the tragedy and saved lives.”

Positive train control was on the list of the National Transportation Safety Board’s most wanted safety improvements for 2015.

FRA Report on PTC: On August 7, the FRA sent its mandated Status of Positive Train Control report to Congress. the agency has determined that even after seven years and help from the FRA most railroads will not have their PTC systems implemented by December 2015.

“Positive Train Control is the most significant advancement in rail safety technology in more than a century. Simply put, it prevents accidents and saves lives, which is exactly what we seek to do at The Department of Transportation every single day. We will continue to do everything in our power to help railroads install this technology,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The report states that over the last 46 years there have been approximately 145 freight, commuter, and transit accidents that could have been avoided if there had been a system in place like that of PTC. Those accidents came with a price tag of 300 lives lost and 6700 injuries that could have been preventable.

“The Federal Railroad Administration will continue to use its resources and expertise to help railroads achieve the critical goal to have Positive Train Control implemented,” FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said.

US-Mexico Rail Bridge

The West Rail Project in Cameron County, Texas, includes the first international bridge connecting the U.S. and Mexico in over 100 years. To help promote border security, X-Ray scanning machines will scan rail cars for drugs and other contraband items. The project will improve the legal trade between the U.S. and Mexico as well as improving travel times.

“This is a project that will leave a lasting effect on our community for many years to come,” said Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda, Jr. “Providing this new link to move goods and services more efficiently is going to bring enormous advantages and opportunities to the consumer, the supplier, and to markets throughout North America and the world.”

California Two Person Crew SB 730 Progresses

California scored a big win for safety when two-person crew bill SB 730, authored by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), passed the State Assembly on August 21 with a vote margin of 51-28. The bill was signed into law by California Governor Brown on September 8, 2015.

SB 730 prohibits the movement of freight or light rail trains from being operated without a minimum of at least two crew members. It also gives authority to the California Public Utilities Commission to assess penalties against anyone who knowingly violates this prohibition.

“Today’s freight trains carry extremely dangerous materials, including Bakken crude oil, ethanol, anhydrous ammonia, liquefied petroleum gas, and acids that may pose significant health and safety risks to communities and our environment in the case of an accident,” Wolk said. “With more than 5,000 miles of railroad track that crisscrosses the state through wilderness and urban areas, the potential for derailment or other accidents containing these materials is an ever present danger. I urge the governor to sign this bill into law, providing greater protection to communities located along rail lines in California, and to railroad workers.”