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Commerce Committee Approves Two Peters Amendments

Amendments Help Families of Passenger Rail Victims and Protect the Great Lakes from Oil Spills


WASHINGTON, DC – Today the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved two key measures introduced by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) that would require an assessment of Amtrak’s safety procedures and evaluate the effectiveness of oil spill response and cleanup plans in the Great Lakes. The amendments were included in a series of bills approved by the Commerce Committee  today.

Peters’ first amendment to the Railroad Reform, Enhancement and Efficiency Act would require the Secretary of Transportation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Amtrak to conduct a post-accident assessment of Amtrak’s emergency preparedness plan and its response to families following the recent train derailment near Philadelphia that killed eight passengers and required the hospitalization of 200 others. 

“No family should ever struggle to find out critical information when a loved one is involved in an accident,” said Senator Peters. “When passengers and their families face a crisis like a train derailment, they need clear information and assistance from Amtrak to help them understand the situation. This amendment will help ensure that Amtrak can sufficiently give passengers and family members the assistance they need in the wake of an accident.”

The assessment will include a review of Amtrak’s compliance with its plan to address the needs of the families of passengers involved in an accident, as well as Amtrak’s compliance with its emergency preparedness plan, and  determine whether these plans adequately meet the needs of passengers involved in a crash and their families. It will also propose recommendations to improve the implementation of these plans in certain areas, including notification of emergency contacts, dedication of staff for family assistance, creation of family assistance centers at the location of an accident and the creation of a single customer service entity to assist passengers and their families after a crash.

Following the derailment, passenger reports suggested Amtrak had poor internal communication, insufficient training for Amtrak employees and inadequate emergency response procedures after the tragic crash. The families of several of the passengers who lost their lives also expressed serious concerns regarding the adequacy of Amtrak’s response and outreach.

Peters’ second amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization Act would require the Coast Guard to work with partner agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct an assessment on the effectiveness of oil spill response activities in the Great Lakes region.

“Michiganders already know the devastating effects an oil spill can have after the 2010 pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River,” said Senator Peters. “The Great Lakes are an essential part of our way of life in Michigan, supporting more than 500,000 jobs and our multibillion dollar shipping, travel and fishing industries. A spill in the Great Lakes would be catastrophic to Michigan’s economy and our environment, and we must be prepared protect this vital resource in the event of a spill.”

The Great Lakes are particularly vulnerable to an oil spill from 62-year-old twin pipelines that run through the Straits of Mackinac. A spill in the Great Lakes would also be complicated by the lack of research on cleanup of oil spills in bodies of fresh water, especially under heavy ice cover. Current methods of oil spill response and cleanup, such as oil dispersants and mechanical recovery, are not effective in large bodies of fresh water. In an April 28th Commerce Committee hearing, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul F. Zukunft said that he “is not comfortable” with the current contingency plans for a worst-case scenario spill in the Great Lakes.

The assessment required by Peters’ amendment will evaluate new research into oil spill impacts and cleanup plans in fresh water under a wide range of conditions. The evaluation will also focus on new and specific improvements to safety technologies and environmental protection systems used in fresh water oil spill response efforts.