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NY Congressman's Telephone Town Hall Included Talk About Rail Safety

The aftermath of Sunday’s fatal train derailment prompted questions from half the callers in a New York congressman’s telephone town hall Tuesday night.

It was the seventh telephone town hall this year for Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, and 27,560 joined the call. While the call was open to a number of topics, about half the time was dedicated to Sunday’s Metro-North derailment in the Bronx, and safety concerns. Maloney talked about legislation he had announced earlier in the day, the Commuter Rail Passenger Safety Act, which he says would help railroads finance automated technology known as positive train control, or PTC. PTC is Wi-Fi and GPS-based safety technology that monitors and can control train movement in the event of human error. Maloney’s legislation would make available billions of dollars of low-cost federal financing to implement PTC on trains, from an already existing rail financing program.

“My bill simply says that existing financing authority can be used to install this new technology that can save lives, because we need it now," New York Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney says.

A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman confirms PTC would have prevented the derailment that killed four passengers and injured more than 60 others. Two of those killed lived in Maloney’s district.

Eric from Deer Park in Orange County posed a question about hastening the implementation of PTC.

“As I understand it the FCC has to be involved with this and that’s one of the holdups. That they’re not moving forward with what they need to do get the proper towers or systems in place so that the PTC system can be worked on broader range for both the freight and passenger trains," Eric asks.

“Right you’re right," Rep. Maloney responds. "There are some issues with ample spectrum and the FCC taking that position, I think some of this is in dispute in the MTA. Listen there is one thing I can guarantee you Eric, a bunch of bureaucrats and agencies down here in Washington will spend the next ten years pointing fingers at each other, what my bill does is says “Let’s stop the bickering and let’s figure out how to get these systems in place.”

Maloney further addressed the matter about the Federal Communications Commission.

“My office is drafting a letter to the FCC on the specific problem, you mentioned the spectrum problems, so we are going to work on that angle as well. In my experience the key thing we need to do is also is what my bill will address primarily is that making sure that the financing authority is there so that the systems like the MTA who are moving this direction who want to install this technology have the financial support they need to get it done.”

Other questions also related to transportation and infrastructure. After Maloney and Harold from Port Jervis, a World War II veteran, talked about programs and assistance for wounded war veterans, Harold had this question.

“We’ve got a bridge between Tristate’s and Port Jervis, when are we gonna get a new one?” asks Harold.

“I’m working on the trains today, I’m trying to keep the trains on the tracks…” Maloney responds.

Maloney said he would look into it. On a separate topic, Beverly from Cornwall-on-Hudson in Orange County voiced her concern about the computer problems that have plagued implementation of the Affordable Care Act. She also said she was nervous about private information and security.

“I’ve heard you on this and I’ll keep working on it.”

"No you didn't, no you didn't, well you heard some," Beverly says.

“Well no I heard you have problems with it," Rep. Maloney responds. "And I’m not saying I agree with you on everything, but I am saying, I’m not down here telling you it’s all sunshine and light, I didn’t vote for this thing, I wasn’t in Congress. I’m brand new, and like you am watching every piece of this thing but what I’m telling you is our system in New York is working better than the one nationally and I’ve not heard about any problems with people’s information being unsecure on the site in New York, so that’s good."

The call included two poll questions. One said that after the fatal train derailment it is clear that more can be done to ensure the safety of folks in the Hudson Valley, and asked whether callers think Congress must prioritize improving commuter safety? 69 percent said yes.

The second question focused on the commuter tax credit which allows commuters to spend up to $245 pre-tax dollars per month on mass transit. Maloney supports extending the credit. 55 percent of callers said they did, too, with 27 percent saying they did not know enough details.

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