Legislation would create Short Line Rail Safety Institute

By Erin Voegele | June 20, 2014

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., have introduced legislation to authorize a new Short Line Rail Safety Institute with the goal of enhancing the safety practices and the culture of short line railroads. The bill, S. 2478, was introduced on June 17 and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

According to information released by Collins, undermanned short line railroads often transport crude oil and ethanol. Collins estimated there are 550 short line railroads in the U.S. operating more than 50,000 miles of combined track, comprising nearly one-third of the entire U.S. railroad network. Those tracks can be as short as a couple of miles, or stretch more than 1,000 miles.

In May, Collins and Murray issued a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx advocating for increased safety measures on short line railroads. In that letter, they stressed that while short line railroads make up one-third of the nation’s rail network, they lack the funding and support that larger Class I railroads receive. Within the letter, the two senators expressed support for the creation of a Short Line Railroad Safety Institute. 

A copy of the legislation provided by Collin’s office indicates the measure would authorize grant funding for private or nonprofit organizations involved in, or affiliated with, transportation by Class II and Class III railroads. Those grants would be used for research, development, evaluation and training efforts designed to enhance rail safety practices and safety culture. The bill would authorized $2 million in fiscal year 2015 funding to support the grant program.

According to information published by Collin’s office, the Short Line Rail Safety Institute would take several specific actions. It would assess the operations and safety programs of short line railroads. It would also support the development of best practices and work with short line railroads to implement those practices. The institute would provide professional on-site safety training for short line employees and purchase and utilize safety training assets, such as locomotive simulators. In addition, the institute would assist the Federal Railroad Administration in implementing its research and development and outreach programs, and tailor such programs for short line railroad operations. The new institute would also help improve safety culture, including a reduction in the frequency and severity of injuries and incidents, as well as improved compliance with regulatory requirements.

“The horrific derailment that occurred in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last year – just 30 miles from the Maine border – brought to light the importance of ensuring the safe transportation of energy products,” Collins said.  “We must ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to prevent another Lac-Megantic, while not overburdening an industry that has a proven track record of safety.”