On December 3, 2015, Congress passed H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST ACT) by overwhelming bipartisan votes of 83 to 16 and 359 to 65 in the Senate and House respectively. The legislation is the first long-term surface transportation reauthorization in a decade and provides funding and policy changes for our nation’s highways, mass transit and rail systems. This landmark legislation includes a number of SMART TD policy priorities, many of which are outlined below.
“I’m very pleased with the legislation overall compared to some of the original proposals. The legislation was modified in both houses and in the conference committee to correct many of the harmful issues facing our membership,” SMART TD President John Previsich said.
“Our National Legislative Director John Risch and his team, working with other unions and allies did a stellar job on a very complex 1300-page piece of legislation that was passed through a very complicated legislative process.
“In difficult economic and political times, an effective legislative department makes all the difference and we have one of the best in the business.”
“Considering the makeup of the Congress, overall we are pleased with the policy provisions in this legislation, and that the law covers five years of authorization,” said Risch. “However, we are disappointed that much of the funding came from non-user fees. Freight railroads alone fund their own track and infrastructure. Using general funding for highways puts railroads at a competitive disadvantage because trucks are not paying their fair share of costs for highway construction and maintenance.”
Provisions to protect transit members from assault
- Section 3022. Improved Public Transportation Safety Measures
- This much-needed section will better protect our transit members by requiring the Federal Transit Administration to promulgate regulations to protect public transportation operators from assault.
- The rulemaking will be required to consider the safety needs of drivers in different modes, including bus and light rail.
- This provision was a direct result of a joint lobbying effort by SMART TD, the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).
ECP brake mandate is maintained
- The legislation largely protects the May 2015 Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) rule that requires the use of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on certain high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs), which SMART TD strongly supports.
- While the legislation does require another study on ECP brakes, it also includes language supported by SMART TD that will ensure testing is done independently and objectively, and not by the railroads or other entities affected by the rule.
- Additionally, the legislation neither prohibits DOT from moving forward with the May 2015 rule while the study is in progress, nor does it require DOT to issue a new rule dependent on the study’s findings.
- The original Senate Commerce Committee language would have repealed the ECP rule and replaced it with a railroad-dominated study.
Inward-facing cameras cannot be used to retaliate against employees.
- Working with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn.), SMART TD secured a provision stating that any in-cab audio or image recording obtained by a railroad carrier under this section may not be used to retaliate against an employee. Rail Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R – Calif.) reinforced this provision by specifically mentioning it in a House floor speech.
- We are pleased the final bill removed a requirement for efficiency testing.
Removed harmful privatization language for transit projects
- Working with TTD and other transit unions (TWU and ATU), SMART TD helped strip a harmful privatization provision from the legislation. The provision would have been an unprecedented giveaway to the private sector by allowing certain public-private partnerships to move to the front of the line for grant awards simply because the project included private money, with no minimum threshold.
- This provision – if not changed – could have resulted in lost jobs, lower wages and diminished passenger rail and transit service.
Biased hair testing methods rejected
- SMART TD has strongly opposed the unfair and biased use of hair testing for drug tests.
- SMART TD strongly opposed previous versions of this legislation that would have allowed companies to immediately begin testing an employee’s hair for drugs.
- The final legislation would only allow companies to do so after experts at the Department of Health and Human Services have set guidelines for such testing.
Tank car safety standards
- The legislation makes substantial improvements in tank car standards by requiring that all new tank cars are equipped with one-half inch thermal blankets.
- All existing DOT-111 tank cars transporting flammable liquids are required to be upgraded to retrofit standards regardless of product shipped.
- The legislation requires DOT to promulgate a rule requiring working alerters in the controlling locomotive of each commuter and intercity passenger train.
- The legislation requires DOT to initiate a rulemaking for redundant signal protection for Maintenance of Way (MOW) workers.
- The legislation provides $199 million to finance a competitive grant program for PTC implementation on commuter railroads.
Funding: Amtrak and Transit
- Transit programs will receive a 9 percent funding increase in Fiscal year 2016 over FY 2015 levels and 2 percent increases each year through 2020.
- Amtrak is funded through the appropriations process; however, this legislation increases authorized FY 2016 funding levels for Amtrak by $60 million.