Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
– On the heels of the Graniteville accident, one of the worst rail disasters in recent history, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today introduced bipartisan legislation dealing with the transportation of hazardous materials by rail and securing safe passage over rail crossings.
Graham introduced the legislation with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).
“South Carolina has learned all-too-well the dangers of railway accidents, particularly those involving toxic chemicals and freight,” said Graham. “This is an issue that needs to be addressed in a bipartisan manner and I’m pleased to work with my colleague on this endeavor. I look forwarded to working with all parties as we improve rail safety in our nation.”
According to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) website, 87 South Carolinians have lost their lives in the period January 1999 until October 2004 in rail accidents. Nationally, 4,689 people have lost their lives in rail accidents over the same period.
Major provisions of the legislation include:
- Raising the minimum fine for violations when transporting hazardous material from $550 to $5000 and raising the maximum fine for gross negligence from $27,500 to $2.5 million.
- Requiring the FRA to conduct a one-year national review of rail infrastructure still using manual switches to determine areas where automatic switches should be installed.
- Every fifteen years, each rail car must be taken out of use, inspected, and repaired to meet federal code and ensure its safety before being put back in use. All cars currently in use fifteen years or older must be inspected and brought up to code.
- Requiring FRA to submit a report to Congress in the next year making recommendations as to the safe distance between cars transporting hazardous materials.
- Requiring FRA to conduct a comprehensive safety review of all 250,000 rail crossings in the United States. FRA will also create a list of 10,000 crossings most in need of safety improvement and Congress will authorize funding to the states for upgrades.
- Empowering state hazardous materials (HAZMAT) inspectors to take cars out of circulation when they deem it necessary.
- Require railroad companies to submit a crossing malfunction report within 5 days to the FRA. Each additional day will result in a $5,000 fine.
“We must address the safety problems facing our national rail system,” said Graham. “My goal is to create a collaborative process working with the rail industry which allows us to learn from our mistakes, reduce future mishaps, and protect public safety. Our legislation focuses on improving railway crossings and track switching mechanisms, container design, and a variety of other issues important to the public.”
“The winning combination will be a collaborative process between the government and industry that leads to safety improvements in an affordable manner,” said Graham.