Safety legislation introduced in US Congress following toxic Ohio rail accident News
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Safety legislation introduced in US Congress following toxic Ohio rail accident

US lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives Tuesday introduced legislation to expand railway safety precautions following the derailment of a train carrying toxic materials in East Palestine, Ohio.

Representatives Chris Deluzio (D-OH) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced a bill requiring the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations that would clarify the definition of “high hazard flammable train” to inclue any train transporting at least one rail car containing flammable material.

A statement by Deluzio said, “DOT currently defines HHFT as a train carrying hazardous materials in at least 20 consecutive cars or 35 cars total…this bill lowers the threshold to one railcar.” The train crash in Ohio involved 11 of 38 cars carrying Class 2 toxic flammable material.

The Senate proposal is sponsored by a bipartisan team including J.D. Vance (R-OH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and John Fetterman (D-PA). This legislation would require a minimum inspection time to ensure all rail car equipment is performing effectively. This provision is likely in response to the sharp decline in rail engineer staffing in the past few years, as evidenced by the Federal Railroad Administration’s 2022 proposal to require at least two crewmembers for “over-the-road railroad operations.” The Railway Safety Act of 2023 would also mandate at least two person crews to ensure adequate inspections.

Under the proposed legislation, rail carriers would be required to notify state emergency systems about the hazardous substances to be transported through the state. The railroads would also have to provide toxic substance training to rail employees and develop emergency response plans. The regulations would also establish requirements for detectors that tell employees when trains are veering off the tracks, as was the cause of the accident in East Palestine.

Co-sponsor Bob Casey (D-PA) said the bill would “make freight rail safer, hold rail companies accountable for putting communities and workers in harm’s way, and protect people over profits.”