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President Biden signs infrastructure bill that boosts Amtrak funding, addresses freight rail safety

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, November 16 — On November 15, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) into law. The bill contains significant funding enhancements for Amtrak and addresses key safety issues in the freight industry.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 228-206 on November 5, and the Senate had previously approved a companion measure.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce applauded passage of the bill.

“This bill will help modernize the nation’s transportation infrastructure, provide much needed funding for Amtrak, and will address many important safety issues in the freight rail industry,” President Pierce said. “ So-called ‘precision scheduled railroading’ puts profits ahead of safety, and this bill will help expose the inherent dangers that come from excessing train length. I thank our elected representatives in Washington for coming together to pass this important legislation.”

The bill provides around $1.2 trillion in funding for infrastructure spending, with about $66 billion earmarked for Amtrak. The nation’s passenger railroad would use the funding to address maintenance on the Northeast Corridor, replace aging equipment, and fund federal-state partnerships to develop new intercity passenger routes. BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative Vince Verna said the added funding would benefit the traveling public as well as members of the BLET.

“In recent memory, Amtrak has received funding that would only allow it to subsist from Continuing Resolution to Continuing Resolution, constantly forced to operate under a cloud of economic uncertainty. The bipartisan infrastructure bill changes that. Amtrak will now have the revenue to operate and procure necessary equipment. The bill provides a more predictable funding provision that is good for business, good for the public and best of all for BLET, good for the members we represent on Amtrak,” Vice President Verna said.

While funding on the freight side is not as significant, the bill addresses a number of key safety concerns of importance to the BLET and its members. Those include:

• Requiring a study on the safety of trains longer than 7,500 feet, including consideration of safety factors such as loss of communication between the head-end and the rear of the train and in-train forces that can lead to increased risk of derailments;
• Requiring FRA accident reports to include information on train length and number of cars, as well as the size of the crew on board;
• Increasing transparency for regulatory waiver requests, including requested suspensions of rules;
• Requiring the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) to create a process to better involve stakeholders, including rail labor representatives, in investigations; and
• Requiring a quarterly report on failures and functions of Positive Train Control technology, including cutouts, malfunctions, and enforcements where an accident was actually prevented.

Vice President Verna said, “Very long trains are taxing the capability limits of freight train brake systems. This is creating new safety risks and forcing train crews to think two miles ahead and up to four miles behind them. This is all to service the new PSR business model, which places a constant growth ideology over safety.

“Trains over two miles long are also injecting new risks into the supply chain, cutting towns in half and creating bottlenecks at ports at a time when the supply chain of goods is stalled by transportation bottlenecks. Because of the bill, very long trains and the risks they pose to the public and employees will be studied. Our members know this is long overdue and its happening because Congress has finally acted with support from both parties.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2021
bentley@ble-t.org

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