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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Report: Cameron County on Dangerous Dozen List for Freight and Rail Passenger Safety in Texas


A report released today by the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Association lists Cameron County in its "Dangerous Dozen" list of the most dangerous counties for freight and rail passenger safety in Texas.

The report, “Dangerous Dozen: Rail Safety in Texas,” lists the 12 most dangerous counties in Texas based on the number of freight and passenger rail accidents and incidents reported from 1998 through 2007. Among all states, Texas ranks No. 1 for train-vehicle collisions and deaths at rail crossings. Cameron County is listed as No. 8 of the 12 listed counties.

In descending order, Texas counties on the “Dangerous Dozen” list are:

1. Harris County (Houston).

From 1998 through 2007 in Harris County, 1,376 rail accidents and incidents—such as derailments, collisions, pedestrian trespassing and hazardous material releases—were reported to the Federal Railroad Administration, according to a data analysis by the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Association. Over the 10-year period, rail accidents and incidents in Harris County resulted in 90 deaths and 1,145 injuries.

2. Tarrant County (Fort Worth): 799 accidents and incidents, 39 deaths, 710 injuries.

3. Bexar County (San Antonio): 493 accidents and incidents, 51 deaths, 519 injuries.

4. Dallas County (Dallas): 356 accidents and incidents, 38 deaths, 225 injuries.

5. Webb County (Laredo): 331 accidents and incidents, 17 deaths, 282 injuries.

6. El Paso County (El Paso): 282 accidents and incidents, 34 deaths, 231 injuries.

7. Jefferson County (Beaumont): 222 accidents and incidents, eight deaths, 154 injuries.

8. Cameron County (Brownsville): 144 accidents and incidents, seven deaths, 124 injuries.

9. Brazoria County (Angleton-Pearland): 143 accidents and incidents, eight deaths, 112 injuries.

10. Potter County (Amarillo): 123 accidents and incidents, nine deaths, 111 injuries.

11. Fort Bend County (Richmond-Sugar Land): 121 accidents and incidents, 15 deaths, 77 injuries.

12. Bell County (Temple-Belton): 116 accidents and incidents, 16 deaths, 97 injuries.

From 1998 through 2007 in Texas, 12,271 rail accidents and incidents were reported to the Federal Railroad Administration—the highest number of any state. Over the 10-year span, 853 deaths and 7,203 injuries occurred in those accidents and incidents.

“Although 2007 was the safest year ever in the history of the American rail industry and Congress recently passed the most sweeping rail safety legislation in more than 30 years, much work remains toward further enhancing the safety track record of our nation’s rail lines,” Bruce Todd, executive director of the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Association, said.

“In Texas, millions and millions of dollars are needed to improve the safety of our rail system, including rerouting freight tracks away from congested urban areas and fixing an assortment of dangerous at-grade rail crossings. Far too many Texans are being killed and injured along our state’s rail lines.”

More than 40 railroads operate in Texas on nearly 15,000 miles of track—the highest amount of rail mileage of any state. Each year, railroads in Texas carry more than 10million carloads of freight.

Texas is among 30 states that are part of the federal Rail State Safety Participation Program. Under this program, government-employed safety inspectors check compliance with rail regulations concerning hazardous materials, operating practices, power and equipment, tracks, and signal and train controls.

During the Texas Legislature’s 2009 session, which starts Jan. 13, the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Association will pursue various options for funding that would enable relocation and improvement of freight rail lines around the state.

The funding would create a revenue stream that could leverage billions of dollars in bonding authority to improve transportation safety, ease congestion at hundreds of railroad crossings around the state, increase the capacity of the state’s freight rail network, shift more of the state’s ever-growing truck freight load to improved rail lines and open up existing freight lines for passenger traffic.

Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2005 establishing the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund to finance relocation and improvement projects. However, even though the amendment has been approved, state lawmakers have not yet dedicated any money for the fund.

For more information, visit www.railrelo.org.

SOURCE: Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Association

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

AG's opinion altering city, county agendasBy Roger Croteau - Express-News A Texas Attorney General's opinion is causing area governments to stop including open-ended reports by officials at public meetings.

Comal County commissioners are chafing under the restriction, saying they no longer include “Reports from elected officials and department heads” at their regular meetings and predicting it will make government less efficient and, ironically, keep the public in the dark.

A Bexar County spokeswoman said a routine item called “Communication with staff and elected officials” was pulled this week from commissioners court agendas until officials can decide how to respond to the new restriction.

“This frustrates me greatly,” Comal County Commissioner Jay Millikin said. “We were doing nothing covert. In fact, nothing could be more overt.”

Last spring, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, requested the opinion on behalf of another legislator over whether it was permissible under the Open Meetings Act for the mayor, council and city manager in Corpus Christi to present reports and updates at council meetings if the agenda item does not state the subject of those presentations.

In an October opinion, Attorney General Greg Abbott replied that “the general and generic nature of the notice does not sufficiently notify a reader, as a member of the interested public, of the subjects of the update and reports to be discussed at any particular meeting.”

Many area counties and cities use such agenda items, under which officials describe anything of note in their offices — schedule changes, awards earned by employees, upcoming meetings or ongoing projects.

Bexar County spokeswoman Laura Jesse said officials were thinking about requiring the agenda item to denote specific subjects, which sometimes is difficult because the agenda must be made public 72 hours before the meeting.

If the deadline is missed, the time-sensitive nature of some topics makes their inclusion at subsequent meetings pointless, Millikin said.

Wentworth said the opinion should not cause any hardship for local officials.

“They simply have to be more specific when posting it on the agenda,” he said. “I acknowlege it is going to require a little more specificity on the agenda 72 hours before the meeting.”

The San Antonio City Council meeting agendas include such reports but list the topics involved.

Millikin often used the report item to speak about regional air quality planning efforts or proposed state laws that would affect Comal County, and generally to “let the public know what they are paying me for,” he said.

This week, Millikin said, he attended a regional transportation planning meeting but couldn't pass along important information at Thursday's county meeting because he couldn't add it to the agenda in time.

He said the court was always careful not to get into lengthy debates, even making sure a majority of commissioners didn't express an opinion on the issues raised to avoid appearing to take an informal vote on it.

Commissioners and department heads still can talk outside of public meetings, Millikin noted, but that cuts the public out and it's often more productive and efficient to bring a subject up when everyone is in the room together.

The New Braunfels City Council removed updates from council members and staff from its agenda last year after learning of the opinion.

The Guadalupe County Commissioners Court still has its item for “Reports, if any, from county officials” on its weekly agendas but is reviewing how to respond to the opinion, Commissioner Jim Wolverton said.

Friday, January 09, 2009  

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