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Rail Safety Solutions

 

By Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3)

 

As the most senior member from Illinois on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the representative of a district that is home to more miles of train tracks than any other –in addition to the fact that I live less than a mile from a line that carries about 150 trains a day (some carrying Bakken oil) - I am concerned by the recent number of railroad accidents.  This has spurred me to take an even greater role in finding solutions that will keep our communities safe.

·         Earlier this month, I joined several of my colleagues in announcing a $3 million grant for IDOT to develop a comprehensive plan to ease congestion and improve the efficiency of Metra service on the BNSF, Heritage Corridor, Southwest Service, and Rock Island lines, as well as Amtrak service that comes into Chicago from the south and southwest. It will reduce congestion and delays, boost economic growth, and improve the overall quality of life for residents. The grant comes from a federal program that I helped establish last year to pay for rail safety and other enhancements. 

·         Recently, I introduced legislation that reauthorizes the Rail Safety Technology Grant program to improve the safety of our nation’s railroads.  The bill authors $200 million in grants for each of the next five years for positive train control (PTC) safety technologies, rail integrity inspection systems, a system for electronic communication regarding hazardous material rail shipments, and other new rail safety items.  I initially established this program in 2008. 

·         My colleagues and I also recently joined in a bipartisan manner to pass the first Amtrak reauthorization bill in over six years. It contains reforms to Amtrak as well as other provisions that I advocated for, including allowing commuter and freight railroads to use Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loans to pay for PTC, and it has funding for grade crossing safety.

·         In addition, I have been calling for the freight railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration to provide a system that would allow first responders responding to a train accident to determine the contents of a rail car quickly, without having to board a locomotive to search for a paper manifest.  I have introduced a bill to create a working group of shippers and first responders to create an interim performance standard to help deployment and training efforts while I push for such a safety system to be implemented. 

·         Finally, I have also been working to provide new opportunities for firefighters and other first responders to get better training for how to respond to various events involving railroad tank cars because this isn’t the type of scenario where you can just rely on on-the-job training – time and lives matter. 

Since transportation issues impact everyone, especially issues involving our rail system, your feedback is always encouraged and appreciated.