March 17, 2011

Panel Holds Hearing on Rail Safety

Washington, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials today held a hearing on the implementation of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

The Subcommittee received testimony from the following witnesses: The Honorable Elton Gallegly, California's 24th District; Ms. Mackenzie Souser, Camarillo, California; Ms. Jo Strang, Associate Administrator, Office of Safety, Federal Railroad Administration; Mr. Mark Manion, Executive Vice President & CEO, Norfolk Southern Corporation; Mr. Ed Hamberger, CEO & President, Association of American Railroads; Mr. Joseph J. Giulietti, Executive Director, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority; Mr. Paul Victor, President, Anacostia & Pacific Railroad Company, Inc.; and Mr. Dennis R. Pierce, National President, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen.

Below is the opening statement of U.S. Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, as prepared for delivery:

Statement of the Honorable Corrine Brown, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
Hearing On
“Federal Regulatory Overreach in the Railroad Industry:
Implementing the Rail Safety Improvement Act”
March 17, 2011

I am pleased to be at this Subcommittee meeting to see how the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is implementing the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Rail safety is an extremely important issue that affects the lives of many.  When I became Chair of the Subcommittee in 2007, rail safety was my top priority and we tackled that issue first.  We started out with two days of hearings and then followed up with additional hearings, including one field hearing, over the course of several months before developing legislation.  We invited all interested parties to participate in the discussion:  the FRA, the railroads, labor, safety groups, and families involved in rail accidents, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  I asked that the NTSB be invited to this hearing but that request was denied.  I think this is a real shame as the Subcommittee could have learned quite a bit from the NTSB’s experience in investigating rail accidents.

Those hearings and bipartisan discussions between Mr. Oberstar, Mr. Mica, Mr. Shuster and I led to development of bipartisan legislation:  the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which was enacted in the wake of a devastating train accident in California that took the lives of 25 people and injured 135 others.  I know that a young girl whose father was killed in that accident will be speaking to the Committee today.  My heart goes out to her and her family.

Prior to the Rail Safety Improvement Act, our national rail safety program had not been authorized in over a decade.  As a result, we did a lot of good things in it to help improve rail safety.  We reformed hours of service standards for rail workers to allow them time to rest between work shifts.  We required the one railroad that still uses camp cars to retrofit or replace them.  We required more training for workers and ensured that injured workers had access to prompt medical attention.  We improved track and grade crossing safety, and we required installation of positive train control (PTC) on main line tracks where passengers and certain hazardous materials are transported.

I support the PTC requirement in the law, but I do have some concerns with how FRA is implementing it.  With that said, I think this Committee needs to careful about what it does with respect to rail safety.  Serious accidents, injuries, and fatalities continue to occur.  In fact, human error remains one of the leading causes of rail incidents, and according to the Government Accountability Office, the number of fatalities has spiked over the years as a result of specific incidents, including one in South Carolina, another in North Dakota, several in Texas, and of course the tragic accident in California.

I would hate for another tragedy to occur like the one in California.  As the economy grows and high-speed and intercity passenger rail are developed in this country, we have to stay focused on improving rail safety.

Before I close, I have a question for Chairman Shuster.  Chairman Mica announced that the Committee will hold two days of hearings at the end of this month to ensure that all witnesses who were not heard at the field hearings and roundtables had a chance to communicate their concerns to Committee Members.  I would like the Chairman to walk me through the process for ensuring those witnesses will be heard.