Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal to introduce rail safety bill in US Senate

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday he is introducing federal legislation that would require the nation's passenger and freight rail system, including Metro-North, to adopt what he calls "life-saving technology."

The Democrat's proposal would mandate so-called "alerters," which sound an alarm when a train engineer seems idle while a train is in motion. If an engineer doesn't respond, the train's breaks are automatically applied.

Blumenthal's bill would also enhance the Federal Railroad Administration's safety oversight abilities, boost civil penalties and require federal agencies to develop a national system for reporting close calls.

His proposal comes in the wake of two accidents involving Metro-North. On Dec. 1, a Metro-North train derailed in New York, killing four passengers and injuring more than 70 others. In January 2009, a signal maintainer was struck and killed in New Haven.

Blumenthal said Tuesday he also wants quarterly reports to be made to Congress, updating lawmakers on the progress being made on meeting interim National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, including those concerning fatigue and cameras.

"Cascading catastrophic crashes, devastating derailments, serious delays and service disruptions clearly show that our rail safety protocols, standards and management are woefully insufficient," said Blumenthal, who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security.

He said that existing federal regulation and oversight of rail safety has been "shamefully inadequate."

Metro-North, the nation's second-largest commuter rail system, released a 100-day plan last month. The railroad said it has completed most of its priorities to improve safety, including creating an investigation unit to look into the root causes of accidents, an overhauled system safety plan, improved training programs and other changes.

Metro-North said it plans to install the "alerter" devices on trains later this year.

In May, Connecticut Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and Elizabeth Esty and New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney proposed their own legislation to improve rail safety. Their bill also required tan automatic fail-safe device.