Washington DC- With the federal government’s rail program operating without an authorization since 2008, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) called for new legislation that would appropriately invest in Amtrak and increase safety. The Senate Commerce Committee is currently preparing a broad, bipartisan bill that could become law this year. In a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee Casey pushed for an increased investment in Amtrak, additional safety grants, efforts to limit dangerous speeds and more reporting on close calls.
“7 years is too long for our nation to be without a comprehensive rail plan in place,” Senator Casey said. “Now more than ever it’s important that this legislation invests in Amtrak while bolstering safety.”
The full text of Casey’s letter can be seen below:
Dear Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson:
As your Committee begins to work on the reauthorization of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, I write to you to express my key priorities. In light of the Amtrak train accident that occurred on Tuesday, May 12th it is imperative that we work toward a bill with increased funding levels and an increased focus for rail safety, especially Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. I applaud your commitment to investing in our Nation’s rail infrastructure and your efforts to improve its safety. Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Amtrak Authorization Levels
I urge support for higher funding authorization levels for Amtrak. Over the years, Amtrak has been breaking annual ridership records and building its customer base. In fact, the Northeast Corridor (NEC) ridership is higher than ever. Amtrak rail service along this corridor is crucial to the long-term economic competitiveness of the region and provides travelers with a reliable mode of transportation to their final destinations. With sufficient federal funding, Amtrak will be able to address the significant backlog of infrastructure upgrades needed to achieve a state of good repair. Robust funding will also allow Amtrak to implement critical safety technology, like Positive Train Control (PTC). Unfortunately, recent reports from Amtrak officials have highlighted the potential for catastrophic long-term failure across the NEC.
Rail Safety Title
Additionally, I want to express my support for a Rail Safety Title in the bill that includes the provisions below along with an increase focus on Positive Train Control.
Grants for Safety Programs: I encourage the Committee to create a grant program that would allow commuter railroads the opportunity to apply for competitive grants to implement Positive Train Control and other safety measures. The investigation into the Tuesday, May 12th Amtrak derailment is still ongoing; however, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that the derailment could have been prevented had PTC been operational on that segment of track. Grant opportunities for safety measures like PTC would help commuter railroads implement the technology more quickly and increase safety.
National Transportation Safety Board: As the Committee examines ways to increase passenger rail safety, I urge you to increase funding for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) rail/hazmat program. Increased funding for this program would allow the NTSB to hire more inspection staffers and enhance rail safety and hazmat efforts.
Speed Limit Action Plans: I urge support for a provision requiring passenger railroad operators to implement speed reduction plans that would address areas where trains need to slow down by 20 miles per hour or more.
Confidential Close Call Reporting: I urge the Committee to include guidelines that would enhance the Federal Railroad Administration’s Confidential Close Call Reporting system so that more data can be gathered on rail accidents. Increased data will allow railroads to not only identify unsafe conditions but also better evaluate and design corrective actions that improve safety.
A Passenger Rail Reauthorization bill with robust funding levels that allow for increased investment in safety is vital to my constituents and the nation. We need to build off of the successes under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act and continue to invest in our nation's aging infrastructure, as well as key safety priorities like Positive Train Control. I stand ready to assist you and appreciate the commitment of both you and your staff to writing a bill that will invest in rail infrastructure and improve safety. I look forward to working with you on this over the next several months.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator