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Legislation would take action to prevent future, man-made rail disasters like Norfolk Southern’s derailment in East Palestine

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), along with U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), JD Vance (R-OH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023 to prevent future train disasters like the derailment that devastated East Palestine, Ohio and Darlington Township, Pennsylvania. The bill will take key steps to improve rail safety protocols, such as enhancing safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors, creating a permanent requirement for railroads to operate with at least two-person crews, increasing fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers, and more.

“The Norfolk Southern train derailment left Pennsylvania and Ohio families, businesses, and first responders grappling with a disaster that spilled hazardous materials in their community. It shouldn’t have happened here and it shouldn’t happen anywhere else in America,” said Senator Casey.The Railway Safety Act will make freight rail safer, hold rail companies accountable for putting communities and workers in harm’s way, and protect people over profits.”

Casey and Fetterman have repeatedly advocated for resources for Pennsylvania and Ohio residents affected by the derailment and are working to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the cleanup and to help the community recover. They pressed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its plan to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for releasing hazardous materials into the air and water and highlighted the need to ensure the proper resources are reaching East Palestine and Darlington Township to continue to aid the residents in and around the region. The Senators wrote to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to express rail safety concerns they have heard from constituents, rail experts, and railroad workers as the NTSB conducts its investigation into the derailment.

In a letter to Norfolk Southern Corporation President and CEO Alan Shaw, Casey and Fetterman emphasized the company’s legal and moral obligation to the residents of East Palestine and Darlington Township as the carrier responsible for operating the derailed train and demanded a response, in writing, on how the company plans to be an active member of response and clean-up operations as well as provide full, adequate, and equitable renumeration for the damages caused to the surrounding communities and environment by the derailment of their train.

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 would:
  • Enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials by:
    • Including new safety requirements and procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials like vinyl chloride.
    • Requiring rail carriers to provide advance notification and information to state emergency response officials about what they are transporting.
    • Creating new requirements to prevent blocked railroad crossings.
    • Mitigating derailment risk with rules for train size and weight.
  • Increases rail car inspections to ensuring that all rail cars on train carrying hazardous materials are inspected by a qualified rail car inspector at regular intervals.
  • Reduce the risk of wheel bearing failures by:
    • Establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors.
    • Requiring trains carrying hazardous materials to be scanned by hotbox detectors every 10 miles.
    • Strengthening inspection requirements for rail cars of trains carrying hazardous materials.
  • Require well-trained two-person crews aboard every train.
  • Force rail carriers to face heightened fines for wrongdoing by:
    • Substantially increasing the maximum fine USDOT can issue for safety violations.
  • Support communities impacted by rail disasters by:
    • Expanding HAZMAT training grants for local law enforcement and first responders through increased registration fees paid by Class I railroads.
  • Invest in future safety improvements by:
    • Providing $22,000,000 to the Federal Railroad Administration for research and development grants regarding wayside defect detectors and other rail priorities.
    • Providing $5,000,000 to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for expenses related to developing stronger tank car safety features.

Read more about the bill HERE.

Read the bill HERE.