Rail safety reforms included in federal transportation legislation

House and Senate negotiators have included several rail safety reforms in a long-term, bipartisan federal transportation compromise unveiled Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison said.

“I have been sounding the alarm for two years on the need to put in place strong rail safety reforms,” said Baldwin. “This legislation includes reforms I have been fighting for to improve safety, transparency, and better communication between the railroads and local first responders and communities, so I am proud that Congress is taking action.”

oil train hazardous materials
Bipartisan legislation in Congress would add new rail safety rules. – Shutterstock photo

Last month, two trains carrying hazardous materials derailed in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin first responders should be applauded for their reaction to these derailments but railroad companies need to do more. We need to strengthen communication between railroads and local communities before an accident occurs and railroads must let first responders know what is moving through their community beforehand,” Baldwin said. “We also need to make railroads share infrastructure inspection reports with local elected officials. This legislation will make that happen.”

Under the legislation, railroads will be required to provide local officials a public version of the most recent bridge inspection report. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fusion Centers will be required to provide information to state and local first responders before a hazmat train arrives in their jurisdiction, Baldwin said.

The legislation asks the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide a plan to implement as soon as possible rules to require railroads to improve their plans for responding to a worst-case oil discharge. The bill also requires the U.S. DOT to initiate a study on the appropriate levels of insurance for railroads carrying hazardous materials, Baldwin said.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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