Pa. rail-line safety legislation still in Senate limbo

Bill would put focus on frail inspections and emergency response

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As the final days of the Congressional session wind down, a bill that would fund improvements to rail infrastructure remains in limbo in the Senate.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has urged his colleagues to pass the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development bill, which would provide $52 billion in discretionary funds for fiscal year 2015, and includes federal grants for highway and transit programs.

The appropriations bill isn’t simply a continuation of current policy. “It’‍s a new initiative,” Mr. Casey said. “It’s funding 20 new rail and hazardous materials inspectors to support short-line safety. It speaks directly to the problem.”

The legislation was approved by the Senate appropriations committee June 5.

Besides the inspectors, the funding would include $3 million to expand automated track inspections, and $1 million for an emergency response training program to train first responders near rail lines where hazardous materials are moved. A key concern is the amount of crude oil moved by rail, which poses safety hazards in the event of a derailment.

Already in 2014, Pennsylvania has seen three derailments. In February, a 120-car train carrying Canadian heavy crude oil, liquid propane and other materials derailed in Vandergrift. In January, a train carrying crude oil derailed on a bridge in Philadelphia, not far from the Schuylkill River. And earlier this month, a train derailed on a bridge in McKeesport.

Nationwide, the past 12 months have seen derailments involving crude oil spills: In November in Alabama and in December in North Dakota, derailments caused fiery crashes that took days to extinguish.

Next month marks the anniversary of a fatal train accident in Quebec, where a train carrying oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

“This funding represents a substantial investment in infrastructure,” Mr. Casey said. “Our failure to invest is not just an economic problem, it becomes a safety problem.”

Kim Lyons: or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly.

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