(The Center Square)
Republicans and Democrats in Congress want to spend more than $20 million to tighten railroad regulations and improve rail safety, nearly a month after a hazardous materials train derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
New legislation proposed by three Democrats and three Republicans would address devices that monitor high temperatures and help prevent wheel bearing failures, which the National Transportation Safety Board said led to the Feb. 3 derailment of the Norfolk Southern in East Palestine, Ohio.
“It shouldn’t take a massive railroad disaster for elected officials to put aside partisanship and work together for the people we serve — not corporations like Norfolk Southern,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “These commonsense bipartisan safety measures will finally hold the big railroad companies accountable, make our railroads and the towns along them safer, and prevent future tragedies so no community ever has to suffer like East Palestine again.”
The Railway Safety Act of 2023 focuses on five areas, including stronger safety procedures and notifications for trains carrying hazardous materials, wheel bearing failure, crews, future improvements and support for communities affected by train accidents.
“What happened in East Palestine is a terrible tragedy,” said Sen. R-Missouri. Josh Hawley said. “The safety regulations that govern our nation’s railroads must be updated to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.”
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The bill would mean new safety requirements and procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials and would require carriers to provide improved notice and information to state emergency officials about the issues. It also establishes rules for train size and weight.
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“The Norfolk Southern train derailment left Pennsylvania and Ohio families, businesses and first responders facing a disaster that spilled hazardous materials into their communities. It should not have happened here and it should not happen anywhere else in America,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania. “The Railroad Safety Act makes freight rail safer, communities and Holds rail companies accountable for putting workers in harm’s way and protects people over profits.”
The bill would require two-person crews on each train and increase fines the US Department of Transportation can impose for safety violations. Ohio lawmakers, last week, proposed a two-person crew requirement on trains in the state, and that plan faced opposition from the Ohio Railroad Association, which said it should be handled at the federal level.
The bill would pump $22 million into the Federal Railroad Administration for research and development grants and another $5 million into the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for stronger tank car safety features.
The Act requires trains carrying dangerous goods to be scanned by hotbox detectors every 10 points and establishes requirements for wayside detectors.
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According to the NTSB, Norfolk Southern train 32N, a general freight train, was traveling from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, with 149 cars, including 20 cars with hazardous materials in its cars. A total of 38 cars, including 11 tank cars carrying hazardous materials, were derailed.
As previously reported by The Center Square, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendi said each rail company establishes its critical limits for heat in wheel bearings. 115 degrees Fahrenheit at Norfolk Southern; The second of the two indicators received by the crew showed a temperature of 103. The final reading, after miles, was over 250 degrees.
It was too late, Homendi said.
“With this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine never happens again. We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from this type of disaster,” said Sen. JD Vance said.
Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.