WASHINGTON – A sweeping rail safety reform bill that envisions billions of dollars for Amtrak easily cleared the Senate on Wednesday, its passage helped by the Sept. 12 train collision in Los Angeles that killed 25 people.
The bill, which passed by a 74-24 vote, now goes to President Bush, who has not indicated whether he’ll sign it. The measure requires more rest for workers and technology that can stop a train in its tracks if it’s headed for collision.
Safety technology mandated by the legislation would have prevented the disaster in Los Angeles, the Federal Railroad Administration has said.
The bill caps the hours per week rail crews can work, and bars shifts longer than 12 hours. It 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.
It also calls for Amtrak to receive $13 billion over five years in subsidies, though Congress will have to separately approve the money year after year. 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.
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.
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.
Bush and Congress have wrangled over Amtrak subsidies for years. He has argued subsidies are excessive – the corporation spends about $3 for every $2 it takes in – but Amtrak runs trains through almost every state, which gives it great support among lawmakers, who have succeeded in restoring cuts proposed by Bush.