Durbin Meets With Transportation Secretary to Discuss Illinois Transportation Issues

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - In a meeting with the Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) discussed the importance of a robust investment in Illinois transportation as part of any new transportation bill.  The current transportation bill - Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) - expires on October 1, 2014.  They also discussed both freight and passenger rail safety.

“Secretary Foxx and I discussed the importance of Illinois’ airports, highways, waterways, and rail lines as the center of our national transportation network,” said Durbin. Maintaining and modernizing this quickly aging network is vital to our future economic well-being, and must be one of our national priorities.  Our next transportation bill should meet that challenge by putting a down payment on critically needed upgrades to our existing infrastructure and making historic investments in building the infrastructure of tomorrow.”

Late last week, Durbin joined with 15 Senators in calling on the Senate Appropriations Committee to support new investment and resources for a Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund to address existing and emerging issues related to the transportation of crude oil and other energy products.  The Senators also called for increased investment for inspections.   Text of the letter can be accessed HERE.


“We urge you to support new funding for a Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund, while also making needed investments to increase Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration inspection personnel,” the Senators wrote. “The rail system in the United States has seen a 6,000% increase in crude on rail since 2007 driven in large part by remarkable increases in energy development from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana. In light of several tragic accidents involving crude-by-rail trains – including the most recent derailment and explosion of tanker cars carrying crude oil near Casselton, North Dakota – communities stretching across our country from the Midwest to coastal ports and refineries are rightly concerned about the safe movement of these combustible products.”


A Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund was proposed by President Barack Obama this year in his fiscal year 2015 budget request for U.S. Department of Transportation.  The flexible fund is intended to address current and emerging safety issues related to the transportation of combustible energy products like Bakken Crude.  Four years ago, very little crude oil was hauled by our nation’s railroads.  Today, more than 800,000 barrels per day – with more expected – move by rail, largely originating in the Midwest.  


In December 2013, Durbin asked the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to take swift action to strengthen requirements for railroad tank cars to help prevent any future catastrophic spills of the hazardous materials - including ethanol and crude oil - these cars transport through densely populated Illinois cities and towns.  His call follows meetings this week with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman and the Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in which they discussed ways to increase safety on both passenger and freight rail.


After excessive heat was cited as a factor in the July 2012 Union Pacific train derailment and bridge collapse at the Northbrook-Glenview border, Durbin joined with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) in calling for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to step up efforts to ensure that railroads have the proper training, inspection plans and protocol to deal with excessive weather events. They also urged FRA to make their investigation into what caused the derailment and bridge collapse open and transparent so that local communities have access to information regarding the safety and welfare of local residents. A copy of that letter can be accessed HERE.


Shortly afterward, in August 2012, Durbin joined with U.S. Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) and then-Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) a review of railroad safety and how railroads, the FRA, state rail safety agencies and other stakeholders ensure the safety of people and goods that use the rail system.  Their letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) can be accessed HERE.


In December 2013, Durbin announced the release of the GAO report which found that while the FRA has made significant progress in improving rail safety, challenges remain in overseeing and implementing rail safety initiatives.  The report can be accessed HERE.


Also in December 2013, Durbin also called on the Metra Board of Directors to clarify their position on implementing Positive Train Control (PTC) - a communications-based system designed to prevent certain types of train accidents caused by human factors - and report back to the Illinois Congressional Delegation with recommendations.  Following a 2008 fatal train crash in California, Congress mandated - as part of the Amtrak and Rail Safety bill - that Amtrak, commuter rail carriers and Class I railroads must install PTC systems on tracks that carry passengers or toxic-by-inhalation materials by January 1, 2016. Calls for PTC have been renewed in the wake of a recent New York Metro North crash that was likely due to the driver missing several speed and signal warnings and hitting a sharp turn at excessive speed.  According to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, PTC may have helped avoid this crash by automatically slowing the train down in that situation. A copy of Durbin’s letter to Metra can be accessed HERE