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LaHood proposes legislation to improve rail transit safety oversight

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called on Congress to pass the Obama Administration's Public Transportation Safety Program Act of 2009, a new transit safety bill to ensure a high and standard level of safety across all rail transit systems. The measure would effectively eliminate the statutory prohibition against imposing such broad safety standards that has been in place since 1965.

Secretary LaHood made his remarks in testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Washington, D.C.

current system for federal rail transit safety oversight is weak and
inadequate and does not guarantee a consistent level of safety for
transit passengers," said Secretary LaHood. "While rail transit remains
a safe way to travel, the Obama Administration believes it is time to
take serious steps to make it even safer and ensure a standard level of
safety across all systems."

Asking the Committee to consider
the bill "seriously and promptly," Secretary LaHood pledged to assist
Congress in enacting a new safety regime that will better protect daily
riders as transit systems age and available revenues remain tight.

proposed legislation would do three things. First, the bill would
authorize the Secretary to establish and enforce minimum federal safety
standards for rail transit systems – effectively breaking through the
1965 prohibition. The bill would also provide the Secretary the option
to establish a safety program for public transportation bus systems.
Secretary LaHood also announced the formation of a Transit Rail
Advisory Committee on Safety that will help guide the Department’s rail
transit safety regulations.

Second, the bill would authorize the
Secretary to allow states to receive federal transit assistance to
staff and train state oversight personnel to enforce new federal
regulations. State programs would have to be well-staffed and
adequately empowered by state governments to fully enforce federal
regulations in order to be eligible for federal funds.

the bill would require the state agencies conducting oversight to be
fully financially independent from the transit systems they oversee.
The Federal Transit Administration would enforce all federal
regulations where states choose not to participate in the program or
where the state program is found to lack the necessary enforcement

"More than 14 million passengers use our rail transit
systems every weekday. Yet the responsibility to guarantee their safety
is currently left to a patchwork of 27 state agencies with inconsistent
standards, inadequate powers and insufficient staffing. With one
exception, these agencies average less than one full time employee,"
said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff, who appeared with LaHood before
the House panel. "Our proposed legislation will better ensure that the
millions of passengers who use transit to get to work, school and home
every day do so safely and without incident."

Under the
Administration’s proposal, FTA and state agencies participating in
federal transit safety enforcement would be authorized to conduct
inspections, investigations, audits and examinations, as well as test
public transportation systems’ equipment, facilities, rolling stock,
operations, and persons engaged in the business of a public
transportation system. They would also have the authority to issue
reports and subpoenas, require the production of documents, take
depositions, and prescribe recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

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