Rail Safety Bill Advances in Senate
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WASHINGTON — A sweeping rail safety reform bill that includes billions of dollars for Amtrak cleared a key vote in the Senate yesterday, as lawmakers invoked the September 12 train collision in Los Angeles that killed 25 people.
Senators voted 69-17 to proceed to a final vote on the bill, which requires more rest for workers and technology that can stop a train in its tracks if it’s headed for collision.
The vote on final passage will happen tomorrow, Majority Leader Harry Reid said. The House passed the bill last week so the expected Senate approval would send the legislation to President Bush for his signature.
Safety technology mandated by the legislation would have prevented the disaster in Los Angeles, the Federal Railroad Administration has said.
“Too often it takes a catastrophe to get people around here to focus on severe gaps in our laws,” said Senator Lautenberg, a Democrat of New Jersey, who authored the measure. “We want to make sure that these things don’t happen again.”
The bill caps the hours per week rail crews can work, adds 200 new safety inspectors for the Federal Railroad Administration, and requires the installation by 2015 of technology that can put the brakes on a train if it runs a red light or gets off track.
The collision in Los Angeles happened when a Metrolink commuter train failed to stop at a red light and ended up on the same track as an oncoming freight.
Governor Schwarzenegger of California issued a statement yesterday noting that the Federal Railroad Administration has been operating under an expired law for 10 years because Congress has failed to act.
“The 25 tragic deaths suffered earlier this month in Chatsworth, Calif., is proof that the time has come to act again,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.
The bill also reauthorizes Amtrak for five years and gives the carrier $13 billion. There’s a new initiative to encourage private sector development of high-speed rail corridors, $2 billion in grants to states for rail projects and money for Washington, D.C.’s metro system.
Amtrak’s previous authorization expired in 2002. The carrier’s supporters say a new authorization will allow Amtrak to make long-range plans and take advantage of what they say is a growing appetite for passenger rail.