U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District, urged Congress to act on rail safety legislation. (Capital-Star photo)
DARLINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. –U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District, on Friday called for Congress to move forward with legislation he introduced in March that would tighten regulations and penalties for railroads.
Deluzio and Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., introduced the legislation in the aftermath of the February Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, just across the border from Darlington Township. Deluzio’s constituents in Darlington were evacuated during Norfolk Southern’s controlled release of toxic chemicals caused by the derailment.
“When that trained derailed, just over the state line, in East Palestine, life was turned upside down for lots of folks in Darlington Township and nearby parts of Beaver County, all parts of my district,” Deluzio said during a press conference at the Darlington Fire Department bay at the township municipal complex. He made his remarks in front of one of the township’s fire engines.
“There were the first responders who bravely rushed in to help from all over this region,” when the derailment happened, Deluzio said. “They worked hard to mitigate a really dangerous situation even though they didn’t have enough information to do their jobs as they needed to.”
Deluzio said concerns about the impact of the derailment have not waned in Darlington. “People were hurt by this derailment, we’ve heard from farmers, small business owners, residents, folks who lost real estate value or simply are unsure or scared and worrying about their health and safety,” he said. “The recovery is not over. Norfolk Southern and other massive railroads would like the public to forgive and forget the toxic derailment. We’re not going to let them.”
The legislation is the House companion bill to the Railway Safety Act of 2023, introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and JD Vance, R-Ohio, with Bob Casey, D-Pa, John Fetterman, D-Pa, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also joining as sponsors.
“More than seven months later, Pennsylvania families, businesses, and first responders are still reeling from the disaster caused by Norfolk Southern’s train derailment,” Casey said in a statement. “I’m fighting to pass the Railway Safety Act to hold big rail companies accountable for the havoc they wreak on our communities and to ensure no community in America has to endure this crisis ever again.”
Sen. Brown said in a statement that rail safety “isn’t partisan. I’ve said from the beginning, I’ll work with everyone to get this done and make sure disastrous derailments like the one in East Palestine never happen again.”
The House bill includes safety regulations to reduce blocked rail crossings, which can make it harder for first responders to respond quickly to an emergency.
“I got stuck in Millvale the other day behind a Norfolk Southern train for more than 10 minutes,” Deluzio said Friday. “This happens all over our district and all over western Pennsylvania.”
The bill also would require railroads to operate with crews of at least two people, and would increase fines for rail carriers. Deluzio said Friday that could mean the difference between the current maximum fines of $100,000 to $250,000 to one percent of the railroad’s operating revenue.
“So for Norfolk Southern, going back to 2022, they could face fines of up to $47 million. It’s a substantial difference from the current law,” he said. “I think that is part of what we have to do, not just to make rail safer in terms of requirements but penalties when they break the law, penalties that matter more than just a rounding error.”
Dennis Sabina, a carman and member of Local 2035 Transportation Workers of America (TWU), said Friday that railroads want to reduce the number of workers on trains like the one that derailed in East Palestine to just one per train.
“I live right here in Chippewa, and what the Congressman said about the crossings being blocked is true — if they allow them to put one man on a train, that one engineer would have to walk all the way back to separate cars to let an emergency vehicle through. It just won’t work.”
The Senate legislation has gotten through committee and is awaiting a floor vote, Deluzio said; the House version hasn’t gotten a committee hearing yet. “I think it should, I think leadership should move this bill forward, and certainly I hope the momentum coming out of the Senate when they get it passed will help drive that.”
He noted his bill has strong bipartisan support; in addition to co-sponsor LaLota, it’s been endorsed by the Biden-Harris administration, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio; and former President Donald Trump. It has nine Republican co-sponsors along with nine Democrats, he added.
He noted that the Senate measure is being led by Pennsylvania and Ohio’s senators, including Republican JD Vance.
“Senator Vance and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. We see eye to eye on this,” Deluzio said. “We need bold federal action to make rail safer for people in western Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Today, I am calling on congressional leadership in both the senate and the house to do the right thing, stand up for rail safety and pass the railway safety act.”
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