Senators Introduce Bills Targeting Improved Transit Safety

Two prominent U.S. senators are pushing for safety improvements in rail transit.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has introduced the National Metro Safety Act to require strong new federal safety standards for Metro rail systems nationwide while Sen. Charles E. Schumer unveiled new legislation that will ban train conductors and bus drivers from texting on their cell phones while on the job.

Mikulski's  bill comes one month after two Metro trains in Washington, D.C., collided outside of a station, killing nine and injuring dozens. It was the deadliest crash in the history of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) rail transit system.

Senators Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are original co-sponsors of the Mikulski bill.

"Last month's tragic collision highlighted the need to take immediate steps to prevent future deadly accidents here in our nation's capital and across the nation," Senator Mikulski said. "Nearly seven million Americans rely on Metro systems across the country to get to work every day. We need to develop federal standards based on sound science and technology to keep our Metro passengers and crew safe, secure and on the move. Other forms of transportation have these standards. It's time Metro has them, too."

Senator Mikulski's bill directs the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), to develop safety standards for all Metro systems. The NTSB has already identified several areas that could ensure better safety and oversight, including: minimum crashworthiness standards, improved evacuation and rescue features on rail transit cars, requiring data recorders on Metro trains, and hour-of-service limits to ensure Metro operators are getting enough rest between shifts.

If the measure is passed, the Secretary of Transportation and NTSB would be required to report back to Congress in six months on the department's progress in developing comprehensive transit safety standards

Schumer's legislation, meanwhile, comes in the wake of mass transit accidents in Massachusetts and California that were caused, at least in part, by distracted operators who were texting on their cell phones while operating the mass transit vehicles.

Schumer's legislation would ban any driver or conductor from using electronic devices while inside any public or private transportation vehicle. The legislation will also heavily penalize those who put the public's safety at risk. The Department of Transportation currently has a ban on texting for rail conductors but not on mass transit or busses.

"Texting while conducting a train or driving a bus is not only irresponsible, it's extremely dangerous," said Schumer, a senator from New York. "By texting while driving, mass transit operators are shirking on their responsibility to provide riders with a safe and reliable means of transportation. These injuries and deaths underscore the dire need for sweeping legislation."

Schumer's legislation calls for conductor and driver training programs to emphasize the danger of texting while operating a vehicle and creates a hotline for concerned citizens to call when they witness a driver or conductor using an electronic device while operating a vehicle.