Fetterman: ‘Same *s**t, different day,’ with latest Norfolk-Southern derailment | Monday Coffee

Pa. lawmakers renew calls for accountability for freight-hauling giant; bill clears U.S. Senate committee hurdle

By: - May 15, 2023 7:15 am
Freight train generic

(Getty Images)

After yet another train derailment, Norfolk Southern has hit an apparent tipping point with Pennsylvania lawmakers, prompting fresh calls for accountability for the freight hauling giant.

Nine railcars from a Norfolk Southern train jumped the tracks outside of New Castle, Pa., about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, on May 10, the Associated Press reported.

Unlike a fiery derailment earlier this year in East Palestine, Ohio, there were no hazardous chemicals on board. Officials said there were no reported injuries, according to the Associated Press.

At least some of the cars that derailed contained soybeans, and paraffin wax, which is used to make candles, the AP reported, citing the New Castle Fire Department.

In a statement last week, the freight hauler said its “crews responded immediately and [were] actively working at the site.”

Nonetheless, that answer was not enough for lawmakers who represent western Pennsylvania, and where residents along the border with Ohio are still dealing with the fallout from the East Palestine accident.

The derailment was the “same s**t, different day from Norfolk Southern,” U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa.tweeted on May 11. “It’s time to finally hold them accountable for the harm they caused and the harm they continue to cause with this dangerous and selfish behavior.”

Fetterman added that he was “thankful that no one was hurt and no toxic material was spilled in New Castle, but this derailment looks way too similar to the ones we’ve said can’t happen again. This has got to end.”

Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Sens. John Fetterman (L) and Bob Casey (R) | Capital-Star photo collage by John L. Micek

Rail safety legislation crafted by lawmakers on both sides of the Pennsylvania-Ohio border cleared a critical Senate committee hurdle last week, positioning it for a vote by the full chamber.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023 on May 10, sponsored by Ohio U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Republican JD Vance, with the backing of Fetterman and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. 

In a statement, the Pennsylvania lawmakers said the bill contains provisions in previously introduced legislation that sets aside funds, provided by rail companies that ship hazardous materials, “to provide emergency responders and firefighters, with the financial resources needed to replace equipment, pay workers overtime, and address other urgent costs.”

The proposal also includes parts of another bill, the Railway Accountability Act, sponsored by FettermanCasey, and Brown, directing 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.”

In a joint statement, Casey said the committee’s vote was 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.”

On Twitter, Fetterman called for a speedy vote for the bill.

“I’m proud that my bipartisan bill, the Railway Safety Act, advanced out of Committee … This bill will finally enact commonsense rail safety procedures that would have prevented last night’s derailment,” Fetterman said, adding that, “it’s time to pass this bill on the floor and finally hold Norfolk Southern accountable.

U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District, speaks during a news conference in Wilkinsburg, Pa., on Wednesday April 12, 2023 (Capital-Star photo by Kim Lyons).

On the other side of Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District, issued a similar call for action on a companion railway safety bill that he’s cosponsoring with U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota R-N.Y.

Darlington Township, Beaver County, in Deluzio’s district, was also affected by the February Norfolk Southern derailment.

Deluzio and U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., introduced a separate piece of legislation in March aimed at lowering the threshold for what trains would be considered high-hazard flammable trains, or HHFT.

Under the DERAIL Act, instead of a train needing to carry hazardous material in at least 20 consecutive cars or 35 cars total for that classification, which is the current U.S. Department of Transportation requirement, only one car carrying hazardous material would be required, the Capital-Star previously reported.

“It’s gonna take all of us—House and Senate, Democrat and Republican—to protect communities across the nation from rail disasters caused by corporate greed. Proud to be part of the solution and lead on the Railway Safety Act in the House with [LaLota],” Deluzio tweeted last week.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.