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House Democrats unveil major rail safety legislation

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, June 4 — On June 3, 2020, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D–OR) and Railroad Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lipinski (D–IL) introduced a $500 billion transportation bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, titled the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act, includes numerous significant rail safety improvements in Title V.

Many of the stand-alone bills that have been central to BLET’s legislative efforts since 2008 have been incorporated into the Act, including:

• Two-person train crews;
• Increased Amtrak funding;
• Fatigue mitigation;
• Unsafe train lengths, including the impact on blocked crossings;
• Safety culture assessments;
• Safe cross-border operations with Mexico; and
• Crew member assault prevention.

The Act mandates a minimum crew size of two — a certified engineer and a certified conductor — on trains carrying hazardous materials, as well as on trains over 7,500 feet in length. These requirements are effectively a repudiation of last year’s withdrawal by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) of pending two-person crew regulations, and that Agency’s attempt to preempt numerous state laws governing crew size.

The Act also challenges the Class I freight rail industry’s Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) operating model, which places rail industry profits ahead of safety, by mandating that the Comptroller General of the United States study and report on the impact of PSR on railroad workers and other affected parties.

Further, the Act reforms the FRA process for non-emergency waivers of safety regulations. The new requirements include timely public notice of a waiver request, access to the waiver request and underlying related data that is not protected by law from public disclosure, and a reasonable opportunity to comment on the proposed waiver.

Finally, the Act authorizes funding for Amtrak for five years, tripling funding to $29 billion. The Act also mandates that workers who serve food and beverages on Amtrak trains must be Amtrak employees, prevents call center outsourcing, and requires that there be at least one ticket agent employed at each station.

“Title V of the INVEST in America Act is the most significant piece of railroad legislation since the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “Over the past several years, dozens of BLET officers and members have spent hundreds of hours informing and educating Congress on our important safety and economic security issues, and their hard work is represented throughout this bill. Thank you, Brothers and Sisters, for your hard work.”

“I also want to say thank you to our friends in Congress who have taken our efforts to educate them to heart, and have taken up the cause of a safer and more economically secure working environment for railroad workers,” President Pierce added. “The INVEST in America Act represents their acknowledgement that significant steps must be taken now to address the challenges faced by America’s railroad workers.

“This legislation is a common sense transportation bill that will work for America and will work for American workers. There was a time in this country when common sense transportation legislation was a non-partisan issue, and the INVEST in America Act is a common sense proposal to help all citizens recover from the pandemic and these harsh economic times. Senate leadership has refused to take up over 400 bills passed by the House during this session. It’s time to break that mold.

“This nation has a historic election coming up in November, and we must support all the candidates who walk shoulder to shoulder with us. We will support Members of Congress from any party who will stand with us. I urge all BLET members to support the INVEST in America Act, and to make candidate support of this bill a litmus test when they vote in in November. We must try to defeat those candidates who put safety and economic security of rail workers second to industry’s profits, and we must vote for those who have committed to aligning themselves with our interests. Those interests are rail safety and economic security for BLET members and all workers. Candidates can support us, or they can support the railroads … period.”

Thursday, June 4, 2020
bentley@ble-t.org

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