SCHUMER, BLUMENTHAL LAUNCH MAJOR CAMPAIGN TO GET CONGRESS TO PASS FOUR POINT RAIL SAFETY PLAN IN 2015; DRAMATIC UPTICK IN RAIL DEATHS THIS YEAR & THIS WEEK’S TRAGIC DERAILMENT GIVES OPTIMISM THAT CONGRESS CAN FINALLY ACT; RAILROADS MUST CREATE CULTURE OF SAFETY
Senators Have Long Supported & Pushed For Positive Train Control Implementation, Rail Grade Crossing Reforms & Other Upgrades To Existing Rail —Congress Should Now Focus & Pass All These Efforts
Schumer, Blumenthal—Cosponsors Of Bill—Will Keep Pressure on to Implement PTC ASAP; Push Congress to Act & Avoid Further Delays in Implementation
With Amtrak Facing a $21 Billion State-of-Good-Repair Backlog, Senators Say We Can’t Continue to Go Down the Same Road of Disrepair—Now is the Time to Make Rail Safety a Top Priority
U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Richard Blumenthal today laid out a four point plan for rail safety. Standing at New York’s Penn Station, the senators launched a major push to get Congress to finally prioritize rail safety in 2015. Their campaign comes in the wake of a tragic Amtrak derailment on Tuesday night that killed at least eight passengers and injured over 200; the train was traveling over 100 miles per hour in a 50 miles per hour curve. Schumer and Blumenthal today said that this is unfortunately the latest derailment in a series of deadly rail tragedies and underscores the urgent need for investment in rail safety technology and modernized infrastructure.
First, Senators Schumer and Blumenthal, who have long been outspoken advocates for rail safety and life-saving rail technology, urged Congress to pass the Positive Train Control Safety Act, which would require the rail industry to move swiftly to install Positive Train Control, a life-saving technology used to slow down trains in order to help prevent crashes and collisions.
Second, the senators urged Congress to pass the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act, which would allocate resources towards safety upgrades at rail crossings, like new lights and signals. Specifically, the legislation focuses on engineering, education and enforcement—the 3 E’s—and bolsters funding to install lights and signals at crossings, build bridges and tunnels to separate roadways from rail track and help better safeguard pedestrians and drivers from future collisions. And, the bill makes changes at crossings that have had serious accidents in the last two years. It will help tackle the most dangerous crossings first and focus on enforcement by promoting police efforts to reduce violations of traffic laws at crossings.
Third, Schumer and Blumenthal said that Congress should completely overhaul rail safety laws and protocols to enhance and enforce safety on rail lines. Specifically, Schumer and Blumenthal authored the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which mandates inward and outward facing cameras, increased track inspection, require greater use of modern inspection technology and stepped up enforcement of speed restrictions, and fines up to $1 million for safety violations on all railroads, including Amtrak and LIRR.
Fourth, Senators Schumer and Blumenthal said that Congress should increase infrastructure spending, specifically Amtrak spending and Highway funding, through the Highway Trust Fund and the Amtrak reauthorization and appropriation process. Schumer and Blumenthal explained that while Amtrak has worked to implement PTC, that process has been slower than it could have or should have been in part because of inadequate resources. Schumer and Blumenthal today said that, in light of the recent derailment, Congress should heed their call and make rail-safety a top priority this year.
“The deadly Amtrak derailment, along with the dramatic uptick in rail deaths, have exposed that Congress must do more to improve rail safety across the board. For far too long, Amtrak has been tremendously undercapitalized to the point that they now have a $21B State-of-Good-Repair Backlog. So, simply put, no matter how hard Amtrak works to prioritize safety, because of a lack of funding, some projects and improvements are delayed, “ said Senator Schumer. “Congress should invest in critical rail safety upgrades and provide adequate infrastructure funding, hold railroads feet to the fire on PTC, invest in rail grade crossings and more. Now is the time to make rail-safety a top priority in Congress.”
“There is absolutely no doubt that this derailment—and the tragic loss of life and horrific injuries it caused—would have been prevented by Positive Train Control. This disaster, like so many recent rail disasters before it, should never have happened. Now is the time to invest in modern, proven safety technology and infrastructure and to put in place real oversight and accountability to finally move our railroads into the 21st century. We need immediate, sweeping investment and reform to restore public trust and confidence in our nation’s railroads. The cascading catastrophes, derailments, spectacular crashes, senseless deaths and injuries and needless mundane delays have eroded and undermined public confidence in our rail system. We can and must do better. Our approach has been patch and pray and we now need substantial investment,” said Senator Blumenthal.
Schumer and Blumenthal explained that while Amtrak has worked to implement PTC, that process has been slower than it could have or should have been because of inadequate resources. Furthermore, that investment has come at the expense of other maintenance and capital needs which has only further exacerbated Amtrak's funding shortfall. The lack of adequate investment in Amtrak has led to a $21 billion state-of-good-repair backlog and has led to a situation where Amtrak is currently operating on some bridges built between 1890-1910, tunnels built between 1900-1910 and signaling systems dating back to 1930. Schumer and Blumenthal today said that we cannot continue to go down the same road of disrepair and that’s why now the time for Congress to heed the senators’ call and provide increased funding to Amtrak and other forms of infrastructure throughout the Country.
PTC is a communications and signaling system that can be used on railroads to prevent collisions caused by excessive speed and human error. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found dozens of passenger and freight rail accidents over the years could have been prevented through the use of PTC, including the 2013 Spuyten Duyvil crash in the Bronx in which four lives were lost and a 2008 crash in southern California that killed 25 commuters and the most recent Amtrak Northeast Regional train No. 188 derailment in Philadelphia which killed at least 8 people and injured over 200.
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