Senate Democrats

H.Res. 1492, Providing for Agreement by the House of Representatives to the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2095, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act

Summary and Background

The Senate is expected to begin consideration of H.Res.1492, providing for an agreement by the House of Representatives to the Senate Amendment to H.R.2095, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act ("the legislation").  The legislation would: 1) make certain railroad safety improvements; and 2) reauthorize and make reforms to federal passenger rail programs, including Amtrak.

The rail safety reforms included in the legislation would require that new technology to prevent crashes be installed on high-risk tracks and limit the hours train crews can work per month.  In addition, the legislation would authorize $13 billion for Amtrak over five years, create a new nine-member Amtrak Board of Directors, and require Amtrak to implement a new financial accounting system and submit an annual budget and five-year financial plan.

Major Provisions

Division A-The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008

 

Cumulative Funding Totals

Average Annual

FRA Authorizations

$1.32 billion

$264 million

Technology Grants

$250 million

$50 million

Grade Crossing and Infrastructure Grants

$32 million

$6.4 million

Total

$1.6 billion

$320 million

Title I: Railroad Safety Improvements

Implementation of positive train control.  The legislation would mandate by 2015 the use of positive train control (PTC) systems on rail main lines over which passenger trains and trains carrying toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials travel and would require that high-risk lines are equipped first.  

Railroad safety technology grants.  The legislation would authorize $250 million in grants for states and railroad carriers to aid in the deployment of PTC systems and other rail safety technology including electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, rail integrity warning systems, and remote control power switches.

Hours-of-service reform.  The legislation would revise the hours of service limits for train crews and signal employees by requiring an uninterrupted off-duty period of 10 hours between shifts, a total monthly cap of 276 hours for train crew work hours and return travel to duty stations, and consecutive days off (creates the first mandatory "weekend" for railroad employees).

Title II: Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Pedestrian Safety Trespasser Prevention

National crossing inventory.  The legislation would mandate that rail carriers and states regularly update a national database of warning devices and signage at highway-rail grade crossings maintained by the Secretary of Transportation.

Federal grants to States for highway-rail grade crossing safety.  The legislation would authorize $1.5 million in grants per year to a maximum of three states per year for highway-rail grade crossing safety.

Operation Lifesaver.  The legislation would authorize grants to Operation Lifesaver for a public education campaign to improve awareness along railroad rights-of-way at highway-rail grade crossings.

Title III: Federal Railroad Administration

Civil penalty increases and enforcement.  The legislation would enhance the Federal Railroad Administration’s enforcement tools, would increase the maximum civil penalty for safety violations to $100,000, and would require more transparency into its enforcement process.

Emergency waiver authority.  The legislation would authorize the Secretary of Transportation to grant emergency waivers of regulations or orders for no more than 60 days in the event of major catastrophic events like hurricanes, biological or radiological releases, and terrorist attacks.

Title IV: Railroad Safety Enhancements

Minimum training standards and plans.  The legislation would require minimum training standards for all safety-related railroad employees and the certification of train conductors.  

Emergency escape breathing apparatus.  The legislation would protect railroad employees by requiring that emergency escape hoods be kept on trains carrying toxic-by-inhalation hazardous materials.

Railroad safety infrastructure improvement grants.  The legislation would authorize $5 million in grants for passenger and freight railroad carriers, as well as states, for safety improvements to track, bridges, tunnels, and passenger stations.

Title V: Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance

Establishment of task force.  The legislation would create a National Transportation Safety Board office to coordinate and assist families of passengers following rail disasters.

Title VI: Clarification of Federal Jurisdiction Over Solid Waste Facilities

Clarification and regulation of solid waste transfer facilities and solid waste rail transfer facilities.   The legislation would allow state environmental and public health regulation of rail facilities that process solid waste.

Division B-The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008

Title I: Authorizations

Authorizations.  Division B of the legislation authorizes $13 billion over five years for federal passenger rail programs, including expansion of Amtrak.  This bill would authorize $1.9 billion in funds for a competitive state grant program for rail development projects, including those to relieve congestion, with a 20 percent state match requirement. 

 

Cumulative Funding Totals

Average Annual

Amtrak (Operating Grants, Capital Grants, Repayment)

$9.67 billion

$643 million

State Rail Grants

$1.9 billion

$380 million

High Speed Rail Grants

$1.5 billion

$300 million

Total

$13.07 billion

$1.32 billion

Title II: Amtrak Reform and Operational Improvements

Amtrak Board of Directors. The legislation would create a new, bipartisan nine-member Board, whose members would be required to have a rail, transportation, or business background.

Improved financial accounting and financial plan development. The legislation would mandate the development of a new Amtrak financial accounting system and require Amtrak’s Board of Directors to submit an annual budget and a five-year financial plan.  The system would be monitored by the Department of Transportation Inspector General.

The five-year plan would be required to include information on the following issues:

  • Projected revenues and expenditures for Amtrak;
  • Projected ridership levels for all Amtrak passenger operations;
  • Revenue and expenditure forecasts for non-passenger operations;
  • Capital funding requirements and expenditures necessary to maintain passenger service;
  • Operational funding needs;
  • Projected capital and operating requirements;
  • An assessment of the continuing financial stability of Amtrak;
  • Estimates of long-term and short-term debt and associated principal and interest payments;
  • Annual cash flow forecasts;
  • A statement describing methods of estimation and significant assumptions;
  • Specific measures that demonstrate measurable improvement;
  • Prior fiscal year and projected operating ratio, cash operating loss, and cash operating less per passenger on a route, business line, and corporate business;
  • Prior fiscal year and projected specific costs and savings estimates resulting from reform initiatives;
  • Prior fiscal year and projected labor productivity statistics on a route, business line, and corporate basis;
  • Prior fiscal year and projected equipment reliability statistics; and
  • Capital and operating expenditures for anticipated security needs.

Northeast corridor.  The legislation would require a collaborative plan for bringing the Northeast Corridor up to a state-of-good repair by 2018.

Compliance requirements.  The legislation would require Amtrak to provide a plan to comply with disability accessibility standards at stations and would authorize funding for such improvements.

Title III: Intercity Passenger Rail Policy

Capital investment grants.  The legislation would create a new State Capital Grant program for inter-city passenger rail capital projects.  The program would authorize the awarding of grants to a state, or a group of states, to pay for the capital costs of infrastructure, facilities, and equipment necessary to provide new or improved intercity passenger rail.  The federal match would be 80 percent.  Projects would be selected by the Secretary of Transportation based on economic feasibility, expected ridership, environmental impact, and other factors.

State rail plans.  The legislation would establish a state rail planning process and would require that new projects funded by the grant program be on the state’s rail plan.

Title IV: Miscellaneous Provisions

Commuter rail mediation.  The legislation would create an effective process for resolution of disputes between freight railroads and Amtrak in the event that freight railroads delay Amtrak trains and permits fines to be assessed for such delays.

Locomotive biofuel study.  The legislation would require the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to study whether freight railroads, Amtrak, and other passenger rail operators can use biofuel blends.  The definition of a "biofuel" is the same as the definition found in Section 9001 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

Title V: High Speed Rail

High speed rail.  The legislation would establish a $1.5 billion grant program for the construction of high-speed rail projects in any of the 11 designated high-speed rail corridors.  The bill would also permit the Secretary of Transportation to recommend to Congress proposals for the development of private high-speed rail lines.

Title VI: Capital and Preventive Maintenance Projects for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

WMATA.  The legislation contains a provision to authorize $1.5 billion over 10 years for the rehabilitation of Washington Metro’s rail transit system, which is similar to a bill sponsored by Senators Cardin, Mikulski, Warner, and Webb.

Legislative History

On April 25, 2007, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee favorably reported S.294, thePassenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, with amendments by voice vote.

On May 22, 2007, S.294 was placed on the Senate Calendar.

On October 10, 2007, the House of Representatives passed H.R.2095, by a vote of 377 to 38.  On August 1, 2008, the Senate passed H.R.2095 with an amendment by unanimous consent. 

On October 30, 2007, the Senate passed S.294 by a vote of 70 to 22. 

On June 11, 2008, the House passed H.R.6003 by a vote of 311 to 104 and on July 22, 2008 Speaker Pelosi appointed conferees.  Senator Reid has been blocked from appointing conferees by Senate Republicans.

On September 24, 2008, the House agreed to H.Res.1492, providing for agreement by the House of Representatives to the Senate Amendment to H.R.2095, by voice vote.

Administration Position

At press time, the Bush Administration had not yet issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the legislation.

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