New Surface Transportation Bill Nods to Emerging Technologies for Increased Safety

A newly-introduced surface transportation bill would make an historic $95 billion investment in passenger and freight rail in the U.S., including $32 billion for Amtrak, tripling its current funding. The funding is part of the INVEST in America Act, a five-year, $547 billion bill.

Specifically, the INVEST in America Act would invest in U.S. passenger and freight rail in the following ways:

Maintaining and Expanding the Passenger Rail Network

  • Establishes the Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) grant program, authorized at $25 billion over five years for rail projects that improve mobility, operational performance, or expand the intercity passenger rail network. Includes eligibility for high-speed rail projects.
  • Establishes the Bridges, Stations and Tunnels (BeST) grant program, authorized at $25 billion over five years, for publicly-owned or Amtrak-owned major rail bridges, stations, and tunnels that have total project costs of at least $500 million.
  • Authorizes $100 million for the Federal Railroad Administration to lead regional planning efforts and for up to 10 interstate rail compacts to develop additional regional high-speed and/or intercity passenger rail corridors.
  • Provides states with a dedicated funding for passenger rail project planning. 

Amtrak

  • Authorizes $32 billion over five years for Amtrak to make sustained investments in infrastructure, stations, and equipment, reduce its state of good repair backlog, and expand its network.
  • Clarifies that Amtrak does not exist solely to make a profit, but to serve the public interest in providing national intercity passenger rail service.
  • Allows Amtrak to directly enforce its statutory right of preference in court, addressing Amtrak delays that are often caused by freight rail traffic.
  • Bans ticket conditions that require mandatory arbitration of customer claims and disputes.
  • Increases funding to bring stations and facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Requires all long-distance route passengers traveling overnight have access to meals.

Rail Safety

  • Quadruples investment in the CRISI competitive grant program to $7 billion over five years. CRISI can fund rail projects including public benefit freight rail, private and public passenger rail development, rail line relocation, grade crossing improvements, railroad trespassing and suicide prevention, workforce development, and research. 
  • Establishes a $2.5 billion grade crossing separation grant program to build or improve grade crossing separations.
  • Rescinds special permits or approvals for transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail tank car and stays DOT regulations governing the transport of LNG by rail tank car until the safety of such movement is thoroughly analyzed and additional conditions are met. 
  • Requires that freight trains have a certified locomotive engineer and a certified conductor.
  • Increases the number of railroad safety inspectors at the FRA by an estimated 20% over five years.
  • Prohibits stopped freight trains from blocking public crossings for more than 10 minutes, while allowing for commonsense exemptions. The DOT is authorized to impose penalties for crossings that are repeatedly blocked.
  • Requires FRA to consider gaps in current safety regulations for emerging technologies.

Read more at the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

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