10.17.08

President Signs into Law Schiff, Waxman, Gallegly Provisions Requiring Stricter Standards on Collision Avoidance Systems Implementation on Major U.S. Rail Lines

Official Seal of the US House of Representatives

Friday, October 17, 2008 Contact: Sean Oblack (202) 225-4176

President Signs into Law Schiff, Waxman, Gallegly Provisions Requiring Stricter Standards on Collision Avoidance Systems Implementation on Major U.S. Rail Lines

Bill passes quickly in wake of deadly Metrolink-Union Pacific crash in Chatsworth

Washington, DC – Yesterday, the President signed a bill into law, which included provisions introduced in the House by Representatives Adam Schiff, Henry A. Waxman and Elton Gallegly to require all major U.S. railroads to install “positive train control” systems designed to help avoid collisions.  These provisions came in response to the recent Metrolink-Union Pacific crash in Chatsworth.  Similar legislation was passed earlier this year, but it did not contain strict enough penalties. That bill (H.R. 2095) was amended to include many of the provisions introduced by Reps. Schiff, Waxman and Gallegly before it received final approval in the House and Senate in late September. 

“The legislation should ensure that proper safeguards will be put in place,” said Schiff.  “They are tragically overdue and commuters deserve no less.”

“This law is an important step forward for railroad safety, but our work does not end here,” Rep. Waxman added.  “We owe it to the families affected by the Metrolink crash and to all rail commuters to continue pressing for its timely implementation and enforcement.”

"As I've said before, this is Step One," Gallegly said. "When passenger and freight trains share a single north- and southbound track there are inherent dangers that must be addressed. The National Transportation Safety Board report on the Sept. 12 Chatsworth crash will give my colleagues and me an idea of what, if any, further legislation is needed."

In January 2005, a Metrolink train in Glendale in Rep. Schiff’s district collided with an automobile that was abandoned on the tracks.  That collision killed 11 people and was the deadliest Metrolink crash in its history, until the tragic collision in Chatsworth.  Rep. Waxman’s district includes Chatsworth, the site of the collision that took 25 lives and injured 135 people, 40 of them critically. Twenty-one of those who died in the Chatsworth accident had lived in Rep. Gallegly’s district. Rail safety experts say a positive train control system could have prevented the collision of a Metrolink commuter train with a Union Pacific freight train.

The provisions introduced in the House by Reps. Schiff, Waxman, and Gallegly were first introduced in the Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

The provisions included in the bill drafted by Reps. Schiff, Waxman, and Gallegly will:

  • Require both commuter and passenger railroads and freight train that share a track to implement positive train control systems;
  • Requires installation of these systems on all other passenger rail lines and rail lines used to transport hazardous materials; and
  • Authorize the Secretary of Transportation to assess fines up to $100,000 on rail carriers that fail to comply.

In the wake of the Chatsworth train collision, the bill also mandates a safety analysis on using cell phones and other devices in the cab of the train and reforms the hours of service rule to ensure that train conductors and other personnel receive adequate rest on the job.

Background:

The National Transportation Safety Board has called for installation of positive train control systems to avert collisions, particularly on high-risk track shared by freight and passenger trains.

Here is how positive train control systems work:

  • Digital communications are combined with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to monitor train locations and speeds.
  • These systems can detect excessive speed, improperly aligned switches, whether trains are on the wrong track, unauthorized train movements, and whether trains have missed signals to slow or stop.
  • If engineers do not comply with signals, the system automatically brings the trains to a stop.

Positive train control systems have been put to use only in limited areas, including the Northeast and between Chicago and Detroit. California has no positive control systems although Southern California has the most track shared by freight and passenger trains in the United States.