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Schumer plans to reintroduce stalled rail safety legislation

Reacting to the two derailments in Erie County in the last week, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Thursday he will reintroduce in January a bipartisan rail safety bill that was pigeonholed in a Senate committee earlier this year.

The New York Democrat said the accidents could be "just the tip of the iceberg" -- an indicator of more deadly events waiting to happen.

His bill would increase fines for nonfatal accidents, which average $2,133, to a range of $25,000 to $10 million. For fatal accidents, fines would run from $1 million to $20 million.

Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, asked the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct an unusual survey of tracks and bridges in Erie County.

Higgins, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said, "Western New Yorkers look at this pattern of insufficient care and rightly question whether those responsible for protecting their safety are sufficiently rigorous in ensuring proper track management and upkeep is taking place."

The responsibility for track safety inspections now is left to the railroad companies.

Schumer's bill would set tougher fines for fatal rail-related accidents and new requirements for investigations, inspections and the use of new safety technology.

The senator said, "The legislation aims to crack down on negligent railroad companies and require the broader use of modern technology to protect the public from more fatal crossing and hazardous materials accidents."

The bill would create a $50 million program for improvements to railroad infrastructure. Their bill died in the Commerce Committee, headed by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Nationally, the number of railroad accidents has increased by about 20 percent in 10 years, a period when the Clinton administration allowed mergers of private railroads into four regional near-monopolies.

Federal Railroad Administration data shows no appreciable increase in accidents in that decade in New York State.

But in Erie County, there have been 20 railroad accidents since January 2005.

Monday, a Canadian Pacific train derailed near the Norfolk Southern rail yard, sending a light standard crashing onto Bailey Avenue.

Three of the 55 cars jumped the tracks, and two flipped over. None of the cars contained hazardous materials, but had there been dangerous chemicals on board, Schumer said, the accident could have been a full-blown disaster.

Sunday, a CSX train derailed on an overpass in Cheektowaga, sending a boxcar crashing to Union Road below.

Higgins told the Federal Railroad Administration that two months earlier, "a train derailed on this same section of track, causing a guardrail to strike a passing vehicle."


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