Safety Bill Introduced After Ohio Derailment


Train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio | Image by WKYC NBC

On Wednesday, bipartisan legislation was introduced to subject railroad operators to revised federal safety regulations and financial penalties. The move follows the recent toxic spill and fire that resulted from a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) were among the legislators from both parties who cosponsored the Railway Safety Act of 2023.

The derailment in East Palestine prompted officials to evacuate roughly half of the town’s 4,000 residents, as previously covered by The Dallas Express. While people have been told it is safe to return home, some residents remain concerned about the long-term impact on their health from toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride.

The bipartisan bill addresses what the senators view as gaps in current oversight. Officials in Ohio, for example, were unaware that toxic cargo was even aboard the trains moving through the state in early February.

“Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again. … We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind,” said Vance in a joint statement.

The bill would apply new requirements to all trains carrying hazardous cargo throughout the United States. Rail operators would also be required to produce emergency response plans and notify state emergency response commissions before trains pass through their borders.

Hazardous material makes up between 7% and 8% of all train shipments nationwide. While the vast majority of these are transported without issue, the incident in East Palestine highlighted the potential danger of a single derailment.

Railroad workers have pointed to cutbacks that they say have contributed to the reduced safety of rail transport. Layoffs have plagued the industry in recent years, leading to overworked employees.

The new bill attempts to help reduce fatigue by mandating, at minimum, a two-person crew per train. This provision, however, was not motivated by the disaster in East Palestine, where three crew members were present. Regardless, the added workforce is expected to help improve safety.

If the bill passes, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be required to review current train size and weight rules. Over time, trains have grown to 2 miles in length. Longer trains help lower costs by requiring fewer workers and locomotives.

“Rail lobbyists have fought for years to protect their profits at the expense of communities like East Palestine and Steubenville and Sandusky,” Brown said in the joint statement. “These commonsense bipartisan safety measures will finally hold big railroad companies accountable, make our railroads and the towns along them safer, and prevent future tragedies, so no community has to suffer like East Palestine again.”

The new bill also seeks to increase the current $225,000 maximum fine for safety violations. If passed, operators could face fines of up to 1% of their annual operating income, potentially reaching tens of millions of dollars.

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26 days ago

The first thing that is needed is that the EXECUTIVES need to have both criminal and civil liability, right down to the managers of maintenance etc.
Railroads have historically had special rights and even special retirement plans. They have “run themselves” and made their own rules without criminal liability.
Forget about trying to regulate the railroad, make the Officers and managers criminally liable, they will then work out how to assure things are done properly.
Failing that, maybe it is time that all the railroads become one entity and responsible for all maintenance as a whole. Having one railcar maintained by one railroad and run on another’s tracks make no sense anyway.