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Long Island

Schumer targets mass transit operators' text messages

Sen. Charles Schumer / Meet the Press Photo

Sen. Charles Schumer / Meet the Press Photo / July 12, 2009

Train conductors, engineers and bus drivers would be banned from sending text messages while on the job if a proposal by Sen. Charles Schumer finds traction in Congress.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Sunday that he plans to introduce a federal bill this week prohibiting drivers and conductors from using electronic messaging devices while in any public or private transportation vehicle.

The proposed legislation follows recent high-profile accidents in California and Boston involving transit operators who were text messaging. Twenty-five people died in California and 130 were injured when a commuter train smashed into a freight train in Chatsworth in October. About 50 people were hurt in an underground crash in downtown Boston in May.

Schumer's proposal would amplify existing rules set up by some states and local transit lines. On-duty Long Island Rail Road engineers must shut off personal cell phones and stow them in a bag; the MTA prohibits the use of cell phones by on-duty train operators, conductors and bus operators, transit officials said. A state bill that would bar the use of electronic devices to send text messages while driving is awaiting Gov. David A. Paterson's signature.

A federal law would send a strong message and fill in gaps left by existing regulation, Schumer said. "We think it should be for all operators of mass transit, public or private," he said, including school buses and shuttles for the elderly.

Provisions would include penalties and fines for violators, driver training programs, and a hotline for concerned citizens to report infractions by drivers and conductors, Schumer said. The bill was not available in draft form because some details were still being settled, Schumer spokeswoman Julie Halpin said.

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