Federal Budget Adds $15M For Rail Safety After Metro-North Derailments

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The Federal Railway Administration will receive a $15 million budget increase to improve rail safety, Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Charles Schumer announced. Photo Credit: Courtesy of @JonMaggio/Twitter

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- The Federal Railway Administration is expected to receive a $15 million budget increase to go toward hiring railway inspectors and improving rail safety after two derailments occurred on Metro-North tracks, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced Tuesday.

The additional funds are expected to be approved this week in Congress, according to Blumenthal and Schumer, the main sponsors of the legislation. This comes a month after a Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, killing four people and injuring dozens and leading to the resignation of Metro-North President Howard Permut.

The Federal Railway Administration will use the funds in part to hire 45 railroad inspectors. The additional money is part of the administration's $185 million total budget that is part of $1.1 trillion proposed federal budget unveiled Monday.

The agency is "woefully underfunded" and has the resources to inspect only 1 percent of the nation's rails, Blumenthal said.

“This is a vitally important increase in urgently needed inspectors, who will make railroad travel safer now and in the future,” the senators said in a joint statement.

The Federal Railway Administration does not seek to inspect 100 percent of the nation’s rails each year – a task that is shared by states and the railroads – but additional funding would allow them to dramatically increase the percentage and spot safety checks, the senators said.

“These funds are a solid step toward fixing persistent, prevalent rail safety flaws,” Blumenthal said in the statement. “More inspectors on the ground will enable detection of track defects and other deficiencies to deter and prevent future tragedies like Spuyten Duyvil and Bridgeport costing lives and dollars."

The legislation also required that the results of the Federal Railway Administration's vigorous investigation into Metro-North's passenger train procedures -- called "Operation Deep Dive" -- along with the recommended action plan and timeline for completed action items be delivered to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations by March 17. 

The Federal Transit Administration is expected to determine whether safety investments in Metro-North's system were appropriately prioritized.

Without the proper resources, inspections and certifications of new safety technologies would have been unacceptably delayed, Schumer and Blumenthal said.

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As long as we're throwing around all this money (that we don't have), perhaps we could use some of it to find out why a six-figure-paid engineer would fall asleep, after two hours on a morning shift, while his train was doing 82 mph entering a 30 mph speed zone. Perhaps it was because he was "woefully underfunded".

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