April 3, 2003

SPRINGFIELD (April 3)–Legislation to continue the Illinois Commerce Commission’s railroad safety inspection program for one year passed the Illinois Senate today by a vote of 58-0.

“This is an important bill for rail employees and their labor unions,” said UTU Ass’t. State Legislative Director John Burner. “Until the bill was approved by the Senate Revenue Committee March 7, there was some doubt as to whether the safety program would continue. Today’ vote in the Senate shows that safety in the railroad workplace really does have sound legislative support.”

Burner, who has been working with legislators here for the past month to secure passage for the bill, known as Senate Bill 392, said the measure will now go on to the House of Representatives, where it is being sponsored by Transportation Committee Chmn. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville).

Although S.B. 392 passed the Senate unanimously, it reached the floor only after difficult negotiations last month in the Senate Revenue Committee. Because the negotiations resulted in a temporary compromise rather than a permanent solution, legislators will have to deliberate the issue again next year.

In its original form, the bill called for the rail-inspection program to be renewed indefinitely and for its funding to continue to come from the state’s Grade Crossing Protection Fund.

But when rail-industry representatives objected to further use of the grade-crossing money to finance the program, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Larry Woolard (D-Carterville), proposed a compromise consisting of a one-year extension of the current funding mechanism while the new administration completes an audit of the rail-safety program’s expenditures. The extension also gives the administration the opportunity to review the future of all of its rail-oriented programs, including a possible administrative shift of the safety program from the Illinois Commerce Commission to IDOT’s Bureau of Railroads. The Revenue Committee approved the compromise, allowing the bill to go to the Senate floor for today’s vote.

“Passage of S.B. 392 in the Senate is an important advance for our members, and passage in the House will be an even more important one,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Dir. Joseph C. Szabo.

“However, passage of this bill is only a partial victory because it gives the state’s rail-safety inspection program only a one-year breathing space,” Szabo said.

“Unless the General Assembly is able to make rail safety inspection a permanent program with a secure funding source,” Szabo said, “our members will not enjoy complete assurance that state government has the tools to hold railroad management accountable for maintaining a safe workplace. This issue will have to be re-visited sometime within the next year.”