Rail Safety Could Spell Shipper Costs

The rail safety bill appears likely to pass Congress by year end. It includes hours-of-service changes, inspection requirements and hazardous materials safety issues.

The House Bill (H.R. 2095) was reviewed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and discharged by unanimous consent. After which it was passed with an amendment by unanimous consent and the House was notified of the Senate action. The bill is now expected to pass Congress by the end of the year.

Among the provisions of the bill are revisions of hours of service requirements. The rules would prohibit an employee to “remain or go on duty: (1) unless the employee has had at least 10 consecutive hours off duty during the prior 24 hours; (2) for a period in excess of 12 consecutive hours; or (3) unless the employee has had at least one period of at least 24 consecutive hours off duty in the past seven consecutive days.”

The hours of service provisions are one area where the bill is expected to add cost for the railroads by reducing duty time and causing railroads to make operational changes to accommodate stricter labor laws, according to comments by William Greene of Morgan Stanley Research. Because the rules would affect all railroads, the Morgan Stanley analyst suggests the costs would be passed on to shippers.

In addition to the labor rule changes, the bill would require Class 1 railroads to develop a plan for implementing positive train control systems to minimize train collisions and over-speed derailments. Under the House bill, those plans would need to be submitted by December 31, 2014.

Class 1 railroads would also be required to file annual reports with the Federal Railroad Safety Administration and Surface Transportation Board detailing by state, the infrastructure investments and maintenance they performed on their system, including track, locomotives, rail cars and rail crossings. The bill would also establish grants for state and local governments for “emergency grade crossing safety improvements” at grade crossings where a collision has occurred with a school bus or where three or more serious bodily injuries or fatalities have occurred.

Another provision of the Bill states “mechanical and brake inspections of rail cars performed in Mexico shall not be treated as satisfying US rail safety laws or regulations” unless the Secretary certifies the inspections are being performed under regulations and standards equivalent to those in the United States, including comparable enforcement procedures; and the Federal Railroad Safety Administration is permitted to perform onsite inspections to ensure compliance with US requirements. It also provides that hazardous material inspections performed in Mexico shall not be treated as satisfying US rail safety laws or regulations.

View more rail transport, intermodal news from Outsourced Logistics.

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