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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Taxpayers on hook for rail crash damages? Yes, under bill that passed House



What’s good for CSX is good for Amtrak.

A bill that puts taxpayers on the hook for compensatory damages in passenger rail crashes easily passed the House on Thursday.

Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, saw his bill pass 99-17. It now heads to the Senate for approval.

Only Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, spoke against it, saying it unfairly shifted the burden onto taxpayers. CS/HB 599 has already gained attention because it orders the DOT to hand over all of its wetlands money to the private mitigation banking industry, despite studies showing that most mitigation banks have done a poor job of restoring wetlands.

But the bill also includes the provision exempting passenger rail operators from paying damages in crashes. It would shield Amtrak, which operates a Miami-Tampa-Jacksonville line and other rail lines, such as Tri-Rail, which stretches from Palm Beach to Dade counties.

Despite the potentially costly ramifications for taxpayers, the bill hasn’t drawn as much attention as a provision passed by state lawmakers in 2010 that indemnified CSX and its freight traffic.

Kriseman said he had expected trial lawyers to object to it, but as of Thursday, they hadn’t expressed concerns about it to him. Kriseman, who voted against the CSX indemnification, said he was puzzled by the silence, but would vote against it anyway.

Michael Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Thursday, February 23, 2012 4:31pm]


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