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Politicians Promote Rail Safety But Lobby Speaks With Cash

(Sacramento television station KCRA posted the following article on its website on May 24. Tim Smith is the BLET’s California State Legislative Board Chairman.)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- State lawmakers have taken steps to promote homeland security by pushing measures to make the rails safer.

But many lawmakers, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also take campaign donations from the railroads.

Meanwhile, those who work on the rails told KCRA 3 that very little is being done to keep trains secure from possible terrorism.

KCRA 3 found trains loaded with hazardous materials sitting unsecure and unprotected for hours at a time.

Tim Smith, an engineer for Union Pacific, said security is lax at the huge Roseville railyard. He said a 10-year-old child could easily attach a bomb to the bottom of a tanker car.

Lawmakers are looking to increase accountability, using legislation to try to force the railroad industry to increase security.

State Sen. Nell Soto said she wants railroads to work with first reponders and pay for training and drills in case of a derailment or terrorist attack.

Sen. Joe Simitian said he wants to make sure hazardous materials are secure. He wants the rail industry to rely on new technology.

There are more than half a dozen bills aimed at improving railroad security. But the opposition is strong and lobbying is fierce.

Last year, lawmakers in both houses voted overwhelmingly to require steps such as increased signage and notification of any accidents. But Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.
Schwarzenegger explained that he did not like the way the legislation was written.

The bill was introduced by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez in February 2005. As it made its way through the Capitol,

Schwarzenegger accepted close to $40,000 in contributions. Union Pacific gave him $29,000, while Burlington Northern kicked in an additional $10,000.

Less than two weeks after Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, Union Pacific gave him an additional $25,000, bringing the total amount to almost $65,000.

Nunez said the Legislature's responsbility is to protect the public, not to protect the profit margin of the railroad industry.

But the governor wasn't the only one accepting money.

When the Assembly initially voted to support the bill, only six members voted against it. All six are Republicans.

All six accepted campaign contributions from Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

Why is the rail industry opposed to legislation focused on rail safety? Smith, the Union Pacific engineer, said the reason is because it might cost the companies money.

In the last year alone, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern spent close to $500,000 lobbying lawmakers at the Capitol.

Despite repeated requests from KCRA 3, the railroad industry failed to offer comment.
Recently, another bill that would have required increased rail security and funding to help pay for training was killed in committee.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

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