Who should pay for rail accidents – taxpayers or CSX?by Dara Kam | December 8th, 2009
The Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly passed a rail bill that the House easily approved yesterday but for the third time faces a serious challenge in the Senate.
As in its first committee yesterday, the bill passed by a 5-4 vote.
Contentious testimony this morning centered on the controversial “SunRail” Central Florida commuter rail deal in which the state will pay Jacksonville-based CSX Inc. $641 million for 61 miles of track from Deland to Poinciana. The transportation giant would be able to continue to operate its freight on the line in exchange for a $1 a year payment to the state.
Who would pay for accidents on the line was the heart of the debate in the committee this morning.
The proposal would cap liability for CSX – even if freight operator is at fault – at $10 million. The state would be on the hook for the rest of the damages, which have run into hundreds of millions of dollars in other states.
Why wouldn’t Florida do the same as some other states that make freight operators liable for criminal negligence, Sen. Dan Gelber, a lawyer, asked committee Chairman Joe Negron.
“It’s because of pleading requirements and other issues that arise in indemnification agreements we’ve made the choice that we’ve made,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.
Gelber wasn’t satisfied.
“What we’re really doing in this is we’re allowing a private company to insure itself for criminal misconduct, for wanton misconduct, for gross negligence, for gross recklessness which nowhere else in Florida have we ever done. We’ve never done that by statute. So this is a major move,” said Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who was on the losing side of the vote.
The measure is now being heard in the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee, where it is also expected to pass.
The Senate will debate the bill on the floor this afternoon.