RailPAC Opposed AB 1699, the Anti-Push-Pull legislation

Below are three documents RailPAC published which helped defeat this legislation on June 27.

Grade Crossing Basics

Commentary by Noel Braymer

The high cost of grade separation makes it impossible to fully grade separate all rail crossings in California, let alone the United States. Not all grade crossings are the same. Modern grade crossing protection can greatly improve safety on the railroads. This is unlike banning cab control cars which will greatly increase costs with no improvement in safety. Nothing is 100% safe, even grade separation hasn’t stopped some drivers from ending up on the railroad and being hit by trains. The key to modern grade crossing protection is reliability and sealing the intersection. Older crossing gates can have the reputation of coming down when a train isn’t approaching or coming down long before a slow train arrives. This encourages impatient drivers to go around lowered gates because of the perception that there is no danger. Modern electronics greatly improves reliability, so gates come down only went a train is coming. Mini-computers at the crossing can raise gates if the train is not moving , drop the gate if a train starts to move and calculate when to lower the gates based on the speed of a trains so the gates don’t have to be lowered longer than necessary. People take lowered crossing gates more seriously when they see and hear the trains shortly after the gates are lowered.

To discourage drivers from going around lowered gates it helps to seal the intersection. There are practical problems on how long the crossing gates can be. Center medians at crossings stops many drivers from going around the gates. It seems drivers are less willing to risk certain front end damage than possible death. In some cases four instead of two sets of gates are used to block the intersection. To prevent vehicles from being “sealed” between gates the second set of gates are lowered after the first set to allow vehicles to clear the crossing if they are between the gates. We can expect to see more improvements to grade crossings as rail service grows. Also needed is improved security along the railroads which reduce suicides on the railroads, enforcements of traffic laws at crossings, and more pedestrian bridges and tunnels to improve safety on the tracks by keeping people off them.

Rail Passenger Association Of California

1008 10th St-217 Sacramento, CA 95814 877-288-3103,
June 18, 2006

The Honorable Alan Lowenthal
Chair, Senate Transportation and Housing Committee
California State Senate
Capitol Building, Room 2209
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Opposition to AB 1699

Dear Chairperson Lowenthal and members of the Committee:

The Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC) is a statewide membership organization working for the expansion and improvement of passenger rail service in California and Nevada.

We are writing to express our strong opposition to AB 1699, a bill that would require the commuter rail operators in California to restrict occupancy of the first 10 rows of their cab cars beginning on January 1, 2007 and, additionally, starting on January 1, 2010, the bill would ban the push mode of operating commuter trains. The push mode is used about 50 percent of the time, which is standard practice throughout the country.

The assumption that cab cars are not safe and need to be banned is incorrect. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the federal agency that regulates the railroad industry, has done extensive studies of crash energy management (CEM) designs that improve the crash worthiness of cab cars. With the cooperative efforts between the federal government and the industry, it is expected that a national standard for CEM cars will be issued in 2-3 years. AB 1699 would ignore the scientific research and prohibit California operators from using the new, and perhaps better, CEM equipment.

Additionally, RailPAC advocates for various new ways to reduce risk that include median barriers, four quadrant gates, bells and lights, and better signage and striping. It would be a better investment to increase funding in these areas than banning the push mode of operation.

It would be a terrible step backward to the expansion and improvement of passenger rail service in California to ban the push mode. To the best of our knowledge, no authority in this country prohibits this operating mode. The precedent this bill would set would clearly have a negative impact on the growth of passenger rail service in California.

Richard L. Silver, Executive Director
Rail Passenger Association of California

20th June, 2006
Hon. Mayor and Council Members
City of Burbank, California

Why The City Should Oppose AB 1699, Metrolink Operations Mandate

By Paul J. Dyson, RailPAC President and member, City of Burbank Transportation Commission

Dear Mayor Campbell and Council Members:

In January of 2005 our neighbor city, Glendale, was the site of a tragic Metrolink Passenger Train incident in which eleven passengers and crewmembers were killed. In my 38 years in the railroad industry I don’t recall such an unfortunate combination of circumstances that led to the worst possible outcome of one individual’s criminal actions. Assemblyman Frommer became involved in response to an emotional outpouring from relatives of the victims and has authored AB1699 in response. The Rail Passenger Association of California opposes this legislation for the following reasons:

  • The legislation bans the use of push-pull operation of passenger trains even though there is no evidence that this standard practice increases the risk to passengers.
  • Banning push-pull operations will cause a major capital cost for train turning facilities AND increased operating costs, as train crew and equipment utilization will be reduced. This will result in reduced passenger rail service at a time when demand is increasing, and will force passengers to return to their cars, putting themselves at greater risk than when traveling by rail.
  • Professional railroaders and safety engineers, including the United States Department of Transportation, as well as the American Public Transportation Association, oppose the legislation.

Legislators must understand that safety is relative, not absolute. As a society we tolerate over 50,000 deaths per year on our highways. We could spend say $250,000 per automobile, or have a 30mph speed limit on our freeways and have fewer deaths, but we would give up so much mobility that we could not function. Rail safety is also relative. The safety record of commuter railroads worldwide is exemplary, but not perfect. AB1699 sets out to regulate one aspect of railroad operations instead of attacking the root cause of most of the rail related accidents in this region, namely the large number of at grade crossings of the railroad by busy streets.

Burbank is a great beneficiary of the Metrolink system, bringing workers to our city and providing mobility for our residents. We don’t want to see service reduced because the system is burdened with inappropriate regulations. RailPAC therefore calls upon the City of Burbank to communicate it’s opposition to AB1699 as being the wrong approach to improving passenger rail and highway safety, and to urge the legislature of the State of California to make available more funds for grade separation projects.

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