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The Rail Safety Improvement Act Is in Effect

The Metrolink train crash in Chatsworth, California, provided the impetus for Congress to enact the Rail Safety Improvement Act in 2008. The Metrolink incident killed 25 people, and injured 135. The train engineer was text messaging on his cell just 22 seconds before running a red light and smashing into a Union Pacific freight train.
What Does the New Act Mean to the Industry?
The Metrolink tragedy could have been averted if the measures in this bill were in effect at the time. For years the Federal Railroad Administration has been attempting to require Positive Train Control, a high-tech braking system, but there was heavy resistance by the railroads. Positive Train Control, or PTC, is now required for Class I freight and passenger rail carriers by 2015 under the new federal mandate. The bill authorizes $250 million to help operators implement the technology. The PTC device will prevent over-speed derailments, the movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position, and train-to-train collisions. PTC works through a combination of GPS sensors in the train tracks and a monitoring system in train cabs. The system sounds an alarm in the cab and simultaneously activates the brakes automatically.
The bill requires the Federal Railroad Administration to study the use of cell phones and other personal electronic devices by rail employees. The Department of Transportation may establish new regulations on the use of personal electronic devices based on the results of the study.
A forum at the Surface Transportation Board was established by the bill, to mediate disputes between commuter rail providers and freight railroads over the use of freight tracks and right-of-way. No prior federal guidelines existed to solve the conflicts.
Disability advocates were pleased with the portion of the bill that compels Amtrak to evaluate if they are in compliance with the American Disabilities Act of 1990.   The evaluation requires Amtrak to estimate the cost to achieve compliance, and determine the earliest possible date that the improvements can be performed. One hope is that the gaps in passenger platforms can be eliminated, to facilitate level boarding for the disabled.

By Michelle Simmons
Get Railroad Jobs, Contributing Editor

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