By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Air and rail travelers in the United States should not feel a big impact if Congress fails to avert a government shutdown on Tuesday, since passport inspectors, security officers and air traffic controllers will all continue to work as usual.
The Department of Homeland Security said that most employees of the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection are exempt from furloughs that will be put in place if the government shuts down.
As a result, screening of passengers at airport screening checkpoints will continue as usual. On the other end of the flight, agents will still be staffing passport controls at U.S. borders and points of entry into the United States.
Visas for foreigners who want to travel to the United States will still be processed and issued.
The Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic controllers will also continue their normal activities so flights should not be disrupted, the agency said. FAA inspectors will still conduct inspections in the field and medical certification for pilots and air traffic controllers will continue.
Some FAA staff will be furloughed, though. As a result, training for new air traffic controllers will be suspended, as will aviation rule making.
Development of "NextGen", the new U.S. air traffic control system that aims to help airlines better navigate crowded air routes, will also be suspended during a government shutdown, according to the Department of Transportation.
The department said NextGen development and testing will be suspended, as will development of NextGen safety standards. NextGen is a staged program that will shift air traffic control systems to global positioning satellites from radar and requires about $1 billion a year in federal investment.
In case of a major transportation accident, the National Transportation Safety Board will decide on a case-by-case basis whether it will launch an investigation immediately or not.
An NTSB spokeswoman said if there are "life safety" issues involved then NTSB would send out investigators. On Monday, the agency said it was sending investigators to the site of a commuter train crash in Chicago.
The rail service Amtrak, which is not a federal agency but which does receive federal funding, said it will continue normal operations of its national intercity and high-speed passenger rail network in the event of a short-term government shut down.
Even though travelers may not see many disruptions, the government shutdown could have a longer-term economic impact, said the chief of the U.S. Travel Association, a group which represents all components of the travel industry.
"We are concerned that federal agencies will quickly be forced to implement shutdown policies that will damage the travel experience and derail long-term bipartisan investments in our travel infrastructure," said Roger Dow, president of U.S. Travel.
(Reporting by Deborah Charles, editing by Ros Krasny, Bernard Orr)