BlueGreen Alliance | Railroad Safety Bill Keeps Rolling Forward in Colorado Legislature

Railroad Safety Bill Keeps Rolling Forward in Colorado Legislature

April 29, 2024

The Colorado Senate Transportation & Energy Committee passed HB24-1030 late last week, a railroad safety bill. If signed into law, the bill will require railroad companies to invest in additional automated wayside detectors that will help identify mechanical problems on trains and alert workers to take preventative actions to avoid a derailment. An amendment presented Friday creates a new rail safety office adding more safety inspectors in Colorado and establishes requirements for railroad companies to take actions to allow emergency vehicles to cross tracks when trains block crossings. 

The bill has been a topic of significant discussion across the state, uniting labor unions, land and water conservation organizations, local government officials from both parties, and environmental policy organizations. Witnesses from many organizations testified to support the bill prior to the vote.   

“Our workers are first responders when something goes wrong on a train,” said Carl Smith, Colorado State Legislative Director for Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Union (SMART-TD), which represents workers employed by both Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) and Union Pacific Railroad (UP). “Railroad workers getting early notification from more wayside detectors, including when a car has a problematic wheel, or that something is dragging under the train allows them to take actions to fix mechanical issues before they cause derailments and life-or-death problems. We can’t wait for the U.S. Congress to take action on these issues, they’re real and immediate in Colorado right now.” 

“Our coalition of environmental and labor partners in Colorado recognizes that rail transportation—both of goods and people—is critical to the state achieving its emissions goals,” said Elena Santarella, Colorado Policy Organizer for the BlueGreen Alliance. “However, our Colorado partners are unanimous in our agreement that railroad safety improvements are imperative—protecting rail workers, adjacent communities, and Colorado’s delicate ecosystem from disastrous derailments. That’s why we set HB24-1030 as our top priority for the year.”  

“Thanks to President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and CHIPS Act, we fully expect overseas manufacturers to come back to the United States,” said Dennis Dougherty, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO and chairman of the state’s Just Transition Advisory Committee. “Many of these manufacturers will recognize that their access to rail in Colorado is a significant advantage and opportunity for them to get large, heavy, and potentially difficult-to-otherwise move products to market nationwide. High-road, clean, union manufacturers are critical to Colorado building up our state’s middle class. However, we strongly believe that for this to become reality, railroads must operate safely and take every measure to prevent derailments.” 

The bill was previously approved by the House and now must pass through the Senate Appropriations committee and then will go to the full Senate floor for approval.