President Obama's budget proposes to have the Federal Railroad Administration start charging for some of its safety inspection services, to bring in $50 million in fee income during the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The "railroad safety user fee" is intended, the budget said, "to help offset the costs associated with railroad safety inspectors and their activities."
Obama also tucked in a request to spend $4.5 million for the FRA to hire 31 full-time equivalent new rail inspection and grant program workers.
A government spokesperson said the idea of a safety user fee has been around for some time, and was previously authorized but never put into the budget proposal. The FRA would have to develop a plan on how much to charge for what services, and introduce it through a formal rule-making process.
Up to now, the FRA has not charged user fees for its services. It does assess civil penalties for railroad infractions of agency rules, but those are paid directly into the federal treasury while the safety user charges would be a new fee income for the FRA.
The proposal comes as the president is injecting billions of dollars of new federal spending into the rail network to spur development of inter-city passenger rail service. Much of that money, both from an $8 billion stimulus program and an ongoing $1 billion continued yearly allocation, will go into existing freight railroad lanes to either add new passenger train service or improve average speeds where that service already operates.