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Panel Unveils Transportation Bills

August 3, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A bill proposed Tuesday would create a high-level office in the Transportation Department dedicated solely to truck and bus safety.

A companion piece of legislation would give the families of railroad disaster victims the same type of special help provided in a 1996 law to relatives of airline disaster victims.

Rep. Bud Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said the committee will pass both measures by Thursday and send them to the full House for consideration.

``There is not a major safety crisis in trucking, but there is room for improvement,″ Shuster, R-Pa., said.

Referring to the aviation family assistance bill, he added: ``That legislation has been a success in the aviation world, and hopefully we’ll have similar success in the railroad industry.″

The ``Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1999″ would create a Motor Carrier Administration within the Transportation Department to administer federal motor carrier safety programs.

That work now is handled by the Office of Motor Carriers, an agency within the Federal Highway Administration, which itself is part of the Transportation Department.

The motor carriers office has been criticized as being too cozy with the trucking industry. The committee hopes to bring special attention to truck and bus safety by spotlighting a new office, said Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, the Transportation Committee’s top Democrat.

The ``Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1999,″ meanwhile, would establish the National Transportation Safety Board as the point of contact within the government for families of railroad disaster victims. It would also prohibit lawyers from making unsolicited contact with victims or their families for 45 days after a crash.

The Transportation Department submitted its own highway and rail legislation Monday. There has been movement from Congress and the administration in both areas this year after 11 people were killed in the collision of an Amtrak train with a truck in Bourbonnais, Ill., and 22 in the crash of a charter bus in New Orleans.

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