Commerce Committee voted 16-11 to move the bill forward for full Senate consideration
Legislation would take action to prevent future, man-made rail disasters like Norfolk Southern’s derailment near PA-OH border; includes key provisions from Casey, Fetterman bills to help first responders, enhance safety standards
Washington, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted out the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023, sponsored by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Fetterman (D-PA). The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration. This landmark legislation would prevent future train derailments by taking key steps to improve rail safety procedures and protocols and increasing fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers.
The legislation includes key provisions based on Casey and Fetterman’s Assistance for Local Heroes During Train Crises Act, which would set aside funds—paid for by rail companies that ship and carry hazardous materials—to provide emergency responders and firefighters, with the financial resources needed to replace equipment, pay workers overtime, and address other urgent costs. Also included are provisions based on the Senators’ Railway Accountability Act, which would direct the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to assess potential regulations improving end-of-train and head-of-train device communications and brake signal testing.
“Pennsylvania families, businesses, and first responders are still reeling from the disaster caused by Norfolk Southern’s trail derailment. No community in America should have to endure this ever again,” Senator Casey said. “By passing this legislation out of committee, the Senate took a crucial step to protect people over profits, make freight rail safer, and hold rail companies accountable for putting communities and workers in harm’s way.”
“I’m proud that this vital bill to improve railway safety is making its way through the legislative process. Above all, we need to make sure a disaster like this never happens again,” Senator Fetterman said. “That’s why I was proud to help lead on this bipartisan bill to strengthen rail safety regulations, which would make sure rail companies have the interests of workers and local residents in mind — not just their bottom lines. After this markup, it’s time to swiftly bring this bill to the floor and get it passed.”
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 Darlington Township, PA and East Palestine, OH to continue to aid residents in need. 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. Additionally, they implored the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA) to address the concerns of farmers and agricultural producers in the region.
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 remuneration for the damages caused to the surrounding communities and environment by the derailment of their train. In a separate letter to Shaw, the Senators urged the company to provide support to Darlington Township residents after repeated reports of Pennsylvanians being turned away at the Family Assistance Center in East Palestine.