WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee, announced the award of $1.9 million from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI) to enhance the safety practices of short line railroads. This funding was provided through the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act to help short line railroads assess and improve their safety and operations programs.

“Short line railroads are an important piece of our country’s transportation network, operating 50,000 miles of track in nearly every state, including Maine,” Senator Collins said.  “I worked to create the Short Line Safety Institute to improve safety training and culture at short line railroads and help prevent the occurrence of rail disasters, such as the Lac Mégantic tragedy in 2013.  This funding will allow these railroads, many of which are small, family-owned businesses, to increase operational safety and protect workers as well as those who live and work near railroad tracks.”

“Short line railroads provide vital connections for freight to travel to and from larger railroads, ports, and manufacturing facilities in Rhode Island and around the country.  Railroads help deliver for our economy and the environment by reducing pollution, relieving congestion, and cutting down on road and bridge damage from heavy vehicles,” said Senator Reed. “This grant will help SLSI further enhance rail safety and prevent accidents and derailments through the development and implementation of better safety policies and practices.”

There are 550 short line railroad companies that operate over 50,000 miles of track, or nearly 40 percent of the national railroad network.  Many short line railroads are small businesses that do not have the resources for the robust safety programs found at larger railroads, though they frequently transport hazardous materials such as chemicals, ethanol, and crude oil. 

The SLSI’s mission is for the short line and regional railroad industry to perform at a superior level of safety.

It was created and funded by the THUD Subcommittee to develop and implement best practices with short lines, provide professional on-site safety training for short line employees, assist the FRA in implementing safety outreach programs specifically for short line railroad operations and help improve safety culture and compliance with regulatory requirements. 

The SLSI recently announced the completion of its pilot phase, during which it developed tools and processes for measuring and evaluating core elements of safety culture on railroads, hired and trained safety assessors, completed six assessments on railroads, and developed a plan for training, research, and education moving forward.

According to the SLSI, seven short line railroad safety assessments have been conducted since the Pilot ended and five more are scheduled to be completed this year. The grant announced today will fund those assessments and others in the coming year, as well as future education and safety training programs.