WEST HAVEN, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday he is introducing federal legislation that would require the nation’s passenger and freight rail systems, including Metro-North, to adopt what he calls “life-saving technology.”
The Democrat’s proposal would mandate so-called “alerters,” which sound an alarm when a train engineer seems idle while a train is in motion. If an engineer doesn’t respond, the train’s breaks are automatically applied.
Blumenthal’s bill would also enhance the Federal Railroad Administration’s safety oversight abilities, boost civil penalties and require federal agencies to develop a national system for reporting close calls.
His proposal comes in the wake of two Metro-North derailments last year. In December, four people were killed and dozens more injured when a Manhattan-bound train derailed near the Spuyten Duyvil station. A derailment in Bridgeport injured dozens of people in May.
Blumenthal said Tuesday he also wants quarterly reports to be made to Congress, updating lawmakers on the progress being made on meeting interim National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, including those concerning fatigue and cameras.
“Cascading catastrophic crashes, devastating derailments, serious delays and service disruptions clearly show that our rail safety protocols, standards and management are woefully insufficient,” said Blumenthal, who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security.
He said that existing federal regulation and oversight of rail safety has been “shamefully inadequate.”
Also, minimal fines set by the Federal Railroad Administration do nothing to promote rail safety and fail to act as a deterrent, said Blumenthal. For example, Metro-North was fined $5,000 following the death of a seasoned track worker last May.
Blumenthal said the accidents on Metro-North that resulted in fatalities laid the groundwork for his legislation.
“We ought to use Metro-North as a poster railroad for the whole nation and that’s what this national legislation seeks to do,” Blumenthal told WCBS 880’s Fran Schneidau.
Metro-North, the nation’s second-largest commuter rail system, released a 100-day plan last month. The railroad said it has completed most of its priorities to improve safety, including creating an investigation unit to look into the root causes of accidents, an overhauled system safety plan, improved training programs and other changes.
Metro-North said it plans to install the “alerter” devices on trains later this year.
In May, Connecticut Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and Elizabeth Esty and New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney proposed their own legislation to improve rail safety. Their bill also required an automatic fail-safe device.
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