Senator asks for NTSB and rail infrastructure maintenance funding

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WASHINGTON — One U.S. Senator says more money from Congress will help the National Transportation Safety board hire more railroad accident investigators and boost overall rail safety along the Northeast Corridor.

This week, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., sent a pair of letters to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development requesting more money for the National Transportation Safety Board and a pair of Department of Transportation grant programs. The letters are supported by several other Senate Democrats.

Murphy asks for an additional $3.5 million in the NTSB fiscal 2018 budget to hire 10 new investigators, five in rail, four in highway, and one in research and engineering.

The NTSB has 13 railroad investigators working on 26 open rail and transit investigations. Four of them are eligible for retirement.

“The ability of the Board to speedily conclude such reviews is limited by its relatively small investigatory staff,” Murphy says.

The NTSB declined comment on Murphy's proposal. However, an agency spokesman said the 13 rail investigators specialize in several areas including track engineering, operations, signals, motive power, and rolling stock. Additional experts in areas ranging from electronics to human factors may be called in as well.

In the second letter, Murphy asks the subcommittee for some $405 million for two grant programs established by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program would provide grants for a wide range of projects, from capital, planning and research, to training.

The Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair would provide grants to bring public transit and Amtrak infrastructure into a state of good repair. Murphy notes there is a $28 billion repair backlog on the NEC.

While the FAST Act authorized $2.2 billion for the programs, Congress has appropriated no funds so far.

“We strongly feel that we cannot let the third year of this widely supported five-year authorization pass by without appropriating these programs,” Murphy says.

Congress extended the federal government's fiscal 2016 budget into 2017, so there have been no new appropriations. In March the Trump administration proposed a 2018 budget that would severely slash current spending, including a 13 percent decrease at the DOT. Lawmakers have yet to advance their own budget.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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