Anyone who has waited... and waited on Hwy. 29 or 55 for trains leaving or entering the Glenwood depot can find some interest in a recent press release from U. S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. It seems some progress is being made and voices like ours are being heard in the effort to improve rail safety. While waiting for the train can be an inconvenience for some, for others, it may mean a critical delay in receiving emergency medical attention. —Deb Mercier

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced her provision to help states address blocked rail crossings passed the Commerce Committee as part of a larger bill aimed at improving rail safety. Klobuchar has met with local leaders and emergency responders across Minnesota who say blocked rail crossings hold up traffic—sometimes for hours—isolating parts of communities and delaying emergency vehicles. The provision will ensure the U.S. Secretary of Transportation provides tools and best practices to states to mitigate the safety risks posed by blocked rail crossings.

“Blocked rail crossings not only inconvenience drivers, they delay emergency vehicles and threaten public safety,” Klobuchar said. “As the Secretary of Transportation develops rail crossing action plans for states, my provision would ensure the plans address the dangers of blocked crossings. I look forward to this provision moving forward, and I will continue doing everything I can to improve rail safety across Minnesota and the country.”

The Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act directs the Secretary of Transportation to develop highway-rail crossing action plans that include accident data for every state. Klobuchar’s amendment will ensure the safety plans also include tools and best practices to help states address the safety risks posed by blocked crossings.

Klobuchar is a leader in the Senate on the effort to improve rail safety and service across the country. She sent a letter earlier this month urging the Department of Transportation to work collaboratively with rail carriers and first responders to establish an information-sharing system that will help communities plan for and respond to rail incidents.  As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees federal rail issues, she successfully pushed for a hearing last year where she pressed federal rail officials on the need to move forward on critical safety measures to strengthen rail infrastructure and protect communities along rail routes.

She also sent letters to the Senate Appropriations Committee calling for increased funding for additional rail inspectors and for a stronger inspection process.

At a Senate Commerce Committee meeting in March, Klobuchar helped pass legislation to improve the efficiency of the Surface Transportation Board and help improve rail service. After a major push from her and Senator John Thune (R-SD), the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report in March examining the rail service challenges in the Upper Midwest in 2013 and 2014 and the implications these issues had on the region’s agricultural sectors.