House approves rail safety bill

Measure will address 29 percent increase in accidents

RAILROAD ACCIDENTS increased a whopping 29 percent since U.S. rail safety laws expired a decade ago. To deal with that appalling safety record and other issues brought to light by railroad unions, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2095, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act, by a 377-38 vote Oct. 17.

The measure improves worker training and addresses harassment and intimidation of workers who report safety problems. It also requires more safety inspectors to ensure that trains, equipment, tracks, and railroad bridges function as they should. Inspections now cover less then one percent of railroad operations — and when problems are identified, the Federal Railroad Administration often doesn’t follow up.

Edward Wytkind, president of the 32-union Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, said “It’s high time that rail corporations put their workers and the public ahead of their profits and institute some common sense changes that will improve safety for everyone.

“Rep. Grace Napolitano’s (D-CA 38th) approved amendment ensures that safety inspections are not outsourced to Mexico unless they meet the highest safety standards. Union Pacific has shown its preference to outsource this critical work to the lowest bidder, and we think it’s right to require U.S. rail safety, training, and enforcement standards are met. We thank Chairman Jim Oberstar (DMN 8th) and Subcommittee Chair Corrine Brown (D-FL 3rd) for their tenacity and insistence that the role of government is to protect workers instead of the multibillion-dollar profits of rail corporations.”

The bill will also implement recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board to improve “dark territory” or areas of un-signaled track, and makes improvements in addressing issues related to fatigue — often a cause of accidents.

The bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.