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House Approves Rail Accident Bill

October 4, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Victims of Amtrak accidents and their families would receive more coordinated help under a bill the House passed Monday.

The Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act would require rail companies to come up with a written plan of action for dealing with accidents. Attorneys would be prohibited from soliciting the victims’ families for 45 days following an accident.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., was passed by voice vote with little debate. The Senate has not yet acted.

It would require the National Transportation Safety Board to assign a person to help the families of passengers involved in an accident. That person would serve as a contact person in the federal government and act as a liaison between the families and the rail carrier.

The bill also would require the board to designate a nonprofit organization to provide counseling and other support to the families.

Rail companies also would be required to provide as complete a passenger list as possible to the board.

Currently, Amtrak is the only rail passenger service that would be affected by the legislation. The bill would apply only to accidents within the United States involving interstate, intercity rail carriers or intrastate high-speed rail carriers.

It would not apply to accidents involving tourist, historic or excursion rail carriers.

Rep. Thomas Petri, R-Wis., said the bill was modeled on a system of family support enacted after the crash of TWA Flight 800. That jetliner, en route to Paris, exploded off the coast of Long Island shortly after takeoff from New York on July 17, 1996.

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