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Government Relaxes Train Safety Rules for California and the Nation

This spring, the White House drew back the scope of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which require all railroads to install crash-avoidance systems on its railways. Now, railroads that do not carry passengers or toxic materials are exempt from the regulation.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act

The Rail Safety Improvement Act was enacted after a train crash in California killed 25 people. Key components of the act will require railroads to install positive train control systems on their tracks by 2015. Positive train control systems, or PTCs, slow or stop trains that are on a crash course with each other. In 2008, the Act was predicted to cost the railway industry $13.2 billion over 20 years for the installation and maintenance of the new systems.Now, the Federal Railroad Administration is narrowing the scope of the regulation by providing an exemption to those railroads that do not carry passengers or toxic materials from installing the safety devices. In addition, these railroads will no longer be required to conduct a safety risk analysis to get approval for their exemption.

Why the White House Made the Change

The changes are part of a larger initiative of the Obama Administration to identify regulations and other rules that need revisions or to be removed because they are too costly, obsolete, unnecessary or too burdensome for the industries they regulate.Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sustein explains that railroads with low safety risks should not be required to install the expensive systems. The change will affect 10,000 miles of track.The railroad industry is pleased with the change. The narrower scope of the regulation will save railroads over $300 million in the next five years and as much as $775 million over 20 years, according to the White House. The railroad industry criticized the original rule when it was enacted, claiming that the time frame for installation was too brief and the cost of installation too expensive.

How the Change May Affect the Public

While these changes may be good for business, they may not be great for the public. Many of the railroads that will be exempted from this safety measure still traverse many public and private lands, including roadways used by the public. Rolling back these safety requirements could jeopardize the safety of anyone using roads crossing railroad tracks.

Train safety is a concern for the nation’s safety agencies. Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its Ten Most Wanted List, which lists the top safety concerns facing the nation today and asks legislators to improve safety. The lack of adequate safety management systems, like positive train control systems, is a top concern of the NTSB.

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