In response to a spate of railway accidents in the region, a group of U.S. representatives introduced a bill this week intended to make rail crossings safer.
Last month, a commuter train making its way north from Harlem struck a passenger vehicle in Valhalla, N.Y., killing six and injuring 15 in the crash. According to Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, H.R. 1291 would help prevent similar accidents from occurring.
“Investing in rail safety programs and supporting innovative grade crossing safety initiatives will help prevent these tragedies in the future,” Esty said in a release. “Our Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act supports essential rail safety improvements, bringing us one step closer to ensuring safe, reliable rail service for all riders.”
Along with Esty, the bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, and Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have introduced companion legislation, S.532, in the Senate.
The so-called Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015 would make more resources available to towns and states for the prevention of collisions at train crossing, building on existing programs such as the Railway-Highway Crossing Program, the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Grants Safety Program, and the Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Capital Grant Program.
The intention is to construct bridges that separate roads from rail tracks, improve signaling, and increase public awareness.
“Last month’s fatal accident on Metro-North and other similar tragedies nationwide demonstrate the urgent need to improve safety at rail crossings in our communities,” Himes said in a release. “This legislation provides concrete steps to raise public awareness and invest in the technology and infrastructure upgrades that are necessary to help keep our drivers and rail passengers safe.”
Northeast Corridor Trains May See a Boost
Rail line Amtrak could get a three-year lease on life in the form of H.R. 749, known as the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015.
All five of Connecticut’s U.S. representatives voted in favor of the measure, as did every Democrat in the House (minus four who did not vote) and 132 of their Republican colleagues.
In addition to funding Amtrak through 2019, the measure also directs the rail company to “establish internal controls to ensure its costs and revenues are allocated to either the Northeast Corridor” and develop a so-called Northeast Corridor Improvement Fund to upgrade and maintain the line between New York; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Springfield, Mass.
The bill also contained a provision put forth by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., to allow pets on Amtrak.
Funding levels remain stagnant under the bill, proposed by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., as it was passed in the House this week, including $1.4 billion in subsidies every year for Amtrak through 2019.
“Our nation’s passenger rail system needs fiscal reforms that protect the taxpayers and grow the economy,” Shuster said in a release.
Amtrak has asked for significantly more than that, for years. In its request for 2014, Amtrak asked for $2.065 billion in federal capital support to “maintain the Northeast Corridor and other Amtrak-owned or maintained infrastructure,” among other initiatives.
“If we truly want to realize our vision of what rail can offer America, in terms of real mobility improvements and rational modal choices, policy decisions must be made and funding provided to match them,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a release back in 2013. “These are big decisions, and will require bold thinking, but they will deliver value for the money.”
Jordan Fenster is an award-winning freelance journalist. He lives with his family in Fairfield County. He can be reached by or @JordanFenster on Twitter.
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