Welcome to Transportation Law Today

Managed by Paul J. Loftus, a partner at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, Transportation Law Today provides professionals in the rail, transit, inland maritime, and trucking industries with current news and analysis of laws, rulings, and regulatory policies.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Joint Rule Requires Truck Clearance At Grade Crossings

The USDOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have jointly issued a final rule that prohibits truck drivers carrying certain hazardous materials "from entering onto a highway-rail grade crossing unless there is sufficient space to drive completely through the grade crossing without stopping." The rule was published yesterday, and takes effect on October 25, 2013.

The intent of the rule is of course to reduce highway-rail grade crossing crashes, and amends 49 CFR parts 177 and 392, specifically a revision to 49 CFR 177.804, and the creation of 49 CFR 392.12.

The new requirements apply to vehicles transporting a quantify of hazardous materials requiring placarding under 49 CFR 172, or any amount of a material listed as a toxin under 42 CFR 73.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

GAO Agrees Railroads Won't Meet 2015 Positive Train Control Deadline

The Government Accountability Office (GOA) released a report yesterday on the status of the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) systems on major freight and commuter railroads. The Report, attached here, was prepared at the request of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and was originally provided to him on August 16, 2013.

The GAO's findings, and recommendations, mirror what the FRA determined one year ago in the FRA's own report to congress on PTC implementation. According to the most recent GAO report, only one major railroad, BNSF, will meet the current statutory deadline of 2015 for PTC. The GAO even doubts industry estimates by the AAR that compliance could be accomplished by the end of 2018.

GAO recommends that Congress amend the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) to permit the FRA to:

(1) extend PTC deadlines on individual rail lines, and grant incremental extensions on a case-by-case basis;

(2) grant provisional certification of PTC systems under controlled conditions before final system certification (to address the concern of delays in certification following compliance deadlines caused by FRA resource limitations);

(3) approve the use of alternative safety technologies in lieu of PTC if PTC functions can be met by other means.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bi-Partisan House WRRDA Bill Rolled Out

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has rolled out the long-awaited Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA, formerly WRDA - "reform" is new) yesterday. Bill H.R. 3080 is sponsored by Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA), Nick Rahall, Committee Ranking Member (D-WV), and Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and Tim Bishop (D-NY), both members of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee.

The public relations blitz surrounding the bill's release is impressive, consisting of a press conference, press release, a colorful summary of the bill's expected accomplishments, as well as a "white-board" video, narrated by Chairman Shuster extoling the benefits of the waterways to the U.S. economy and the virtues of the proposed bill. Finally, a full text of HR 3080 is attached here.

This legislation, if passed, would be the first WRDA bill since 2007. Among the reform provisions are a deadline and monetary cap on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' studies, a streamlining of environmental reviews, and reform of the Harbor Maintenance Tax Trust Fund and the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. For the HMTF, the bill sets target expenditures of up to 80% of HMT revenue by 2020. For the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), the bill caps expenditure for the never-ending money pit Olmstead lock and dam project at 25% annual cost-share, freeing up IWTF funds for other inland projects. The bill also expresses the "sense of congress" that the annual appropriation for the Olmstead project should be no less than $150 million per year until completed (Sec. 213(3)).

Other interesting aspects of the bill include the funding mechanism, potential operation function of corps facilities by private parties (Sec. 225), and a mandate for the corps to inventory its property not essential to its mission which could be sold. The funding mechanism is to use $12 billion for projects funded before the 2007 WRDA bill which have not started, which the bill Summary somewhat euphemistically describes as "fully offsets new authorizations with deauthorizations."

The bill also creates a "Water Infrastructure Public Private Partnership Program" to encourage private participation in USACE projects, as well as creating an "Inland Waterways Stakeholder Roundtable" to address the needs of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, and support the needs of the Inland Waterways System. (Sec. 215).

Actual action on this an ambitious attempt to fund port and inland waterway structure will of course remain to be seen given the looming fiscal and debt ceiling crises Congress faces.