Safety and Alternative Transportation
While there was a significant decrease in vehicle miles traveled last year due to COVID-19 public health measures, preliminary data shows traffic fatalities reached a 13-year high in 2020 with an estimated 38,680 people dying in motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways. This represents an increase of approximately 7.2% from the previous year, while the rate of fatalities rose 23%.
Active transportation has increased significantly over the last decade, but pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities also soared by almost 50 percent in that timeframe. The INVEST in America Act tackles this crisis with comprehensive policies to ensure safety is a top priority. This comprehensive approach to complete street design, formula funding program reforms, improved safety performance management, innovation and safety research efforts, and coordination between states and local governments, will drive transformative changes that can put our country on the road to zero deaths.
- Boosts highway safety funding by more than 50% over current law. Provides additional flexibility to invest in safety education, training, and enforcement.
- Significantly increases funding for pedestrian and bike infrastructure and complete streets, supporting zero-emission modes through approximately $10 billion in investment via existing and new programs. Expands eligibilities for safe routes to schools.
- Requires coordinated bicycle and pedestrian safety planning and ensures states with the highest pedestrian and bicycle fatalities address those risks. Sets aside funding for complete streets projects and makes this funding available to both cities and smaller towns.
- Adopts context sensitive design principles to provide for complete streets in urban areas and ensure the safety of all road users. Provides design flexibility to local governments.
- Emphasizes high-risk rural roads, while providing more certainty and flexibility for states that will be required to make additional safety investments on rural roads.
- Modernizes the railway grade crossing program, providing for additional flexibility to address large grade separation projects and suicides on railroad tracks.
- Strengthens performance measures by removing the ability to set regressive safety targets.
- Invests in work zone safety by allowing states to fund work zone safety training and certification for state and local employees and construction workers.
- Ensures speed limits take safety into account by using the data available to states and localities. Eliminates the 85% design speed requirement under the Manual on Uniform Traffic Devices.
- Increases investment in research on automated vehicle safety for both passengers and other road users. Boosts funding for intelligent transportation systems research and deployment to make our transportation system smarter and safer.
Maintaining a high level of safety in the railroad industry is critical to protecting passengers and railroad workers. A safe system also facilitates the flow of railroad traffic, allowing for the reliable and efficient transportation of freight that contributes to the national economy. The Transforming Rail by Accelerating Investment Nationwide (TRAIN) Act makes a host of safety improvements and investments.
From 2011-2020, more than 21,000 collisions at highway-rail grade crossings caused nearly 6,000 injuries and 2,500 fatalities, as reported by the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Incident dashboard. The TRAIN Act makes significant investments in improving grade crossing safety by:
- Establishing a new grade crossing separation grant program with $2.5 billion over five years to finance the cost of projects that build or improve grade crossing separations or eliminate crossings incidental to separation projects, as well as related project planning costs. These projects improve safety by eliminating vehicle-train accidents, while increasing capacity and traffic flow for both trains and vehicles.
- Authorizing grants administered by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for carrying out public information and education programs to raise awareness of grade crossings and railroad safety and to prevent rail-related deaths and injuries. Funding is also available for public campaigns focused on reducing the number of railroad suicides.
Strengthening Safety Standards
The TRAIN Act sets a higher safety standard that will help protect passengers, the public, and railroad workers by responding to current safety challenges and strengthening safeguards. Specifically, the bill bolsters safety in the passenger and freight railroad network by:
- Requiring operators of regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation to develop and implement a safety validation plan prior to starting revenue service.
- Increasing the number of railroad safety inspectors the FRA employs by an estimated 20% over five years.
- Directing the Secretary to regularly analyze data reported on accident/incident forms for trends or patterns of potential safety risks.
- Directing the Secretary to finalize an overdue rulemaking on fatigue management plans and requiring such plans be reopened if fatigue is a systemic issue.
- Rescinding special permits or approvals for transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail tank car and staying DOT regulations governing the transport of LNG by rail tank car until the safety of such movement is thoroughly analyzed and additional conditions are met.
- Requiring FRA to make applications for non-emergency waivers from safety regulations and their supporting data publicly available, and to provide for public comment before waivers are finalized.
- Requiring that freight trains have a certified locomotive engineer and a certified conductor, with limited exemptions for short line and small railroads.
- Ensuring U.S. railroad workers operate freight trains in the United States.
- Making yardmasters subject to hours of service protections.
- Directing entities providing intercity and commuter rail transportation to develop plans for responding to assaults on passengers and workers within their systems.
The TRAIN Act addresses the impact of long trains and implementation of the precision scheduled railroading model by:
- Requiring the Secretary to study the safety impacts of long freight trains under various conditions.
- Directing DOT to begin collecting train length and additional operating crewmember data from railroads filing accident/incident forms with the FRA.
- Directing the Secretary to audit crewmember qualification and certification programs and review governing regulations to ensure the programs and standards reflect current industry practices and prepare crewmembers for safely operating trains.
Blocked crossings can impact emergency services response times, put drivers and pedestrians at heightened risk, and frustrate the public. The TRAIN Act tackles blocked crossings by:
- Prohibiting stopped freight trains from blocking public crossings for more than 10 minutes, while allowing for commonsense exemptions. The DOT is authorized to impose penalties for crossings that are repeatedly blocked following investigation into causes and possible remedies of blocked crossings, including consultation with the railroad.
- Directing the Secretary to establish a national database for the public to record blocked crossings and creating a mechanism for the public to report blocked crossings directly to the railroads.