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From safety to technology: Rail initiatives in infrastructure bill

Rail provisions win support from diverse stakeholders

The newly signed infrastructure bill contains a number of rail-related initiatives. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

From positive train control to passenger rail, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed Monday by President Joe Biden covers a gamut of safety, capital improvement funding and technological initiatives aimed at bolstering freight rail. 

Rail-related provisions included in the $1.3 trillion bill, according to the Association of American Railroads, the Association of Short Line and Regional Railroads, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the Coalition for America’s Gateways & Trade Corridors and the National Transportation Safety Board:

  • Provide nearly $845 million per year for highway-rail grade crossing safety and elimination projects and an average of $5.55 billion per year for discretionary infrastructure grant programs, including $1 billion per year to the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant program, which provides essential support to short line and passenger railroads as well as state departments of transportation.
  • Increase funding to other grant programs aimed at supporting infrastructure projects, including the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants (formerly known as the FASTLANE grants) and the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants (formerly known as the BUILD and TIGER grants). 
  • Fund research, development and demonstration projects that will help create and further refine technologies serving passenger and freight rail. 
  • Charge the National Academies to conduct a study looking at safety issues surrounding trains longer than 7,500 feet. 
  • Require Federal Railroad Administration accident reports to include information on train length, the number of railcars on the train and train crew size. 
  • Ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to create a process to improve the involvement of other stakeholders, including rail labor representatives, in investigations. 
  • Require host railroads to submit quarterly reports on the performance of positive train control, including malfunctions and prevented accidents.
  • Require audits on the training, qualification and certification programs of locomotive engineers and conductors of railroad carriers. 
  • Incorporate recommendations from the National Safety Transportation Board regarding emergency lighting and speed limits as related to rail safety.
  • Require substance abuse testing for all rail safety-sensitive employees.
  • Require railroads to provide state and local officials with information on the hazardous materials moving through their communities. 
  • Provide $66 billion to Amtrak to target maintenance issues on the Northeast Corridor, replace aging equipment and fund federal-state partnerships to develop new intercity passenger routes. 

Vince Varna, BLET vice president and national legislative representative, said of Amtrak’s funding: “In recent memory, Amtrak has received funding that would only allow it to subsist from continuing resolution to continuing resolution, constantly forced to operate under a cloud of economic uncertainty. The bipartisan infrastructure bill changes that. Amtrak will now have the revenue to operate and procure necessary equipment. The bill provides a more predictable funding provision that is good for business, good for the public and best of all for BLET, good for the members we represent on Amtrak.” 

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.