The SMART Transportation Division Colorado State Legislative Board announced that a railroad safety bill it supports received a key committee endorsement on October 3 and looks likely to be considered in the state Legislature’s 2024 session.
By a 14–6 vote, the state’s Joint Transportation Legislation Review Committee approved of the measure, which limits train lengths to 8,500 feet and sets placement of trackside detectors to mirror what is proposed in the Railway Safety Act introduced after the East Palestine, Ohio, disaster in February 2023. The legislation also would prohibit carriers from blocking rail crossings for longer than 10 minutes.
According to Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, the Ohio derailment was the impetus for some of the legislators to take a hard look at rail safety — and a couple of other incidents closer to home have kept the attention on the railroad.
“A military train from Fort Carson derailed right across from the El Paso County Jail, in Colorado Springs,” Smith said. “So that drew a lot of media attention, a lot of media spotlight.”
Incidents such as the Colorado Springs derailment and a second, more recent incident in Pueblo, Colorado, combined with members’ active outreach, made the commonsense efforts advocated by SMART-TD hard to ignore — even for people who had previously aligned with the carriers.
Smith said that state Rep. Ty Winter had adamantly refused to support rail safety legislation in the 2023 session and was a “no” for several months leading up to the vote in early October, but changed his mind in a statement to the review committee.
“I firmly believe the pressure that Rep. Winter received from the railroad workers that live and work in the 47th House District caused a significant change to his previous stance,” Smith said. “We will thank Rep. Winter for his support and continue to ensure that he supports rail safety legislation. The lobbyists of both railroads were visibly shocked by Winter’s statement and vote.”
A great deal of work on the legislation has been done, but there’s more ahead.
“We still have many steps to go before it gets to the governor’s desk for signature,” Smith noted.
But the committee endorsement with bipartisan support and 14 cosponsors — even before introduction before the full Legislature in 2024 — give it a leg up over legislation starting from scratch.
Smith also said that the legislation remains subject to amendment, especially at the encouragement of the railroad carriers, to soften the protections the bill advocates.
“I anticipate that happening,” he cautioned.
Smith and the Colorado State Legislative Board have already created a coalition of other unions, public safety and environmental groups to help raise awareness in the Legislature for a successful outcome that mirrors the winning two-person crew effort in the state in 2019.
“We will continue to educate legislators on railroad safety and lobby them to support the bill for the 2024 session,” Smith concluded.