Opinion: Let’s maintain focus on railway safety in Ga., U.S.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

June is National Safety Month, and public safety includes railroad safety. There are five key principles that can keep our communities safe, avoid inflicting undue burden on residents’ access and enable the freight rail industry to continue to move goods and materials to and from Georgia.

Earlier this month, the Biden-Harris administration announced more than $570 million in a first round of funding toward improvement projects in 32 states, including Georgia. However, fixing our country’s infrastructure will take more than dollars – it will take businesses partnering with communities to make repairs and improvements.

In 2021, I approached several freight rail companies about fixing a number of issues that residents in my district were facing. These residents reported to my office that they have to crawl under and over stopped trains to get to a nearby MARTA bus stop on their commute to work. For these communities, the problems are systemic and require a system overhaul to repair them.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act is a historic investment that can improve Georgia’s transportation infrastructure. Rail safety must focus on the communities in which trains operate. It is critical that communities are part of the conversation. With this community-focused approach, Georgia residents want a seat at the table so industry stakeholders hear their concerns and work collaboratively with them for transformative change.

When I was elected, the first industry I contacted was one of our railroad partners, Norfolk Southern, based here in Atlanta and in my district. To their credit, they heard me and my constituents. Our mutual understanding of working together can mitigate problems as they arise.

Like politics, infrastructure is local, but it is also the connection between us and a global economy. Therefore, I am collaborating with the Atlanta City Council and the Fulton Board of Commissioners to improve our roads, bridges and railways.

Atlanta’s House District 56 and the vocal Hunter Hills community do not have roads, bridges and rail issues until the system fails them. Together, as one Georgia, we are asking for the following five principles to be applied to future infrastructure funding initiatives:

  • Increase safety training – Earlier this month, Gov. Brian Kemp and first responders attended a Norfolk Southern safety training session for responding to railroad incidents.
  • Accelerate implementation of safety-enabling technology – The Georgia Technology Research Institute, located in my district, is creating the next generation of inspection technology and equipment as a model to advance safety.
  • Invest in upgraded rail infrastructure – Georgia recently received funds from the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant program. This investment is critical for sustained safety. I plan to continue to pursue resources from our federal partners.
  • Establish a proactive safety working group – Partnering with industry and community leaders to set up a proactive working group is essential in preventing and mitigating safety risks.
  • Create a culture of safety through actions – Attract local minds and skilled hands through meaningful, rewarding work, while also providing them with career advancement, job security, paid sick leave and regular safety training.

State Rep. Mesha Mainor, D-Atlanta, represents District 56, which includes portions of Fulton County. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2020 and currently serves on the Education, Governmental Affairs, Regulated Industries and State Planning and Community Affairs committees.