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Congressman Lipinski Introduces Groundbreaking Bills to Reduce Blocked Rail Crossings, Improve Metra Service, and Limit Trains' Impact on Communities

Included in the package is a bill that would set aside $1 billion a year to fund railroad underpasses and one that would require Amtrak to transfer operational control of Chicago Union Station to Metra

WASHINGTON — Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-03), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, on Thursday introduced a package of four groundbreaking bills to mitigate the impact of trains on communities and enhance the experience of Metra riders. Lipinski’s bills come on the heels of a series of hearings he’s held both locally and in D.C. to listen to the concerns of residents about what can be done in Congress to address problems that include blocked rail crossings, noise from train horns, and Metra on-time performance issues.  Lipinski is working to include these bills as part of the five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill which is expected to be introduced in the House next month. 

“I am thrilled to introduce this package of legislation that takes into account months of work holding hearings with community members, rail industry representatives, public officials, and passenger advocates to figure out the best way forward to fix problems we see with trains in our communities,” said Congressman Lipinski. “My staff and I listened closely to the concerns of all interested parties and these bills are the culmination of countless hours drafting and fine-tuning. From exploring innovative solutions that will improve safety and end the gridlock caused by idling or broken-down trains in the Chicago area and around the country, to streamlining functionality at Chicago Union Station, these bills can make a dramatic impact. I look forward to discussing these with my colleagues in the Rail Subcommittee and working with them to pass them into law.”

Congressman Lipinski introduced the following bills:

Don’t Block Our Communities (D-BLOC) Act (H.R. 6223). The purpose of this legislation is to reduce blocked crossings and their impact on local communities. Blocked rail crossings at roadways pose several noise and safety concerns for communities in the Third Congressional District, including impeding the flow of traffic and preventing emergency responders from reaching individuals in life-or-death situations.

  • Defines a blocked crossing as when any train, railroad car, or engine is stopped or is standing in a manner that obstructs public travel at a crossing.
  • Establishes a federal 10-minute limit for blocking a crossing by a railroad, subject to certain exceptions.
  • Gives the Secretary of Transportation the power to fine railroads that block crossings for more than 10 minutes and delegates that enforcement power to qualified state and local rail inspectors and law enforcement that have approval from the Secretary.
  • Requires the Secretary to establish escalating fines based on the length of time a crossing is blocked for. Caps the amount of fines for a single violation at $10,000.
  • Gives the Secretary of Transportation the authority to require railroads to change their operating practices, including length of train, to reduce the instances of egregious or persistent blocked crossings.
  • Does not apply to Amtrak or commuter railroads.

Building Much Needed Rail Grade Separations Act of 2020 (H.R. 6224). The purpose of this legislationis to increase the number of rail-grade crossing separations (overpass/underpass) around the country. Grade separation projects eliminate wait times for drivers stuck at crossings. For example, the approved grade separation project at Harlem and 65th St. will eliminate delay to approximately 1,000 vehicles daily, resulting in alleviation of 9,400 annual motorist hours of delay.

  • Establishes a $1 billion a year competitive rail grade separation program run through the US Department of Transportation.
  • Sets aside 70% of funding for projects with costs larger than $100 million (larger projects).
  • Establishes federal cost share for large projects at 50%, and all other projects at 80%.
  • Requires the railroad share of the cost to be 10% of the net benefit to the railroad.

Every Person Deserves Peace and Quiet Act of 2020 (H.R. 6225). The purpose of this legislation is to increase the number of quiet zones around railroad tracks. While the Federal Railroad Administration requires locomotives to sound their horns at public highway-rail grade crossings, communities that meet specific safety criteria can establish quiet zones that ban the use of train horns at crossings except in emergencies.

  • Makes quiet zones an eligible project under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) program and increases the CRISI authorization amount to account for the expanded eligibility.
  • Makes quiet zones an eligible project under the section 130 program and makes the federal cost share for quiet zones 100%.
  • Makes quiet zones an eligible project under the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program.

Improving the Metra Commuter Experience Act of 2020 (H.R. 6226). The purpose of this legislation is to improve the operation of Chicago Union Station by transferring certain aspects of operational control of Chicago Union Station to Metra. Metra makes up almost 90 percent of the passenger traffic at Union Station. Amtrak has been responsible for some high-profile mistakes that caused significant delays for tens of thousands of passengers.

  • Requires Amtrak to transfer operational control of Chicago Union Station to Metra within 180 days of the law going into effect.
  • Defines operational control to mean the parts of Chicago Union Station “outside the glass”, including 1) dispatching of local trains from Canal Street to Alton Junction out of Metra’s Consolidated Control Facility, 2) Joint policing of Chicago Union Station, with each respective police force having separate areas of primary responsibility, and 3) Maintenance and capital improvement of passenger platforms, tracks, and signals from Canal Street to Roosevelt Road.
  • States that its Congress’s intent that Amtrak pay the operational and capitol cost for the parts of Chicago Union Station that only benefit Amtrak and split the rest of the cost of Chicago Union Station with Metra.
  • Withholds 5% of Amtrak’s appropriated funding if they do not comply with the Act after 180 days.
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