Pennsylvania’s two United States senators, joined by a colleague from Ohio, have thrown their support behind a proposed federal rule aimed at providing more information to emergency service personnel who respond to the kind of toxic train spills that upended the lives of thousands of people on either side of the Pennsylvania/Ohio border earlier this year.
On Thursday, Democratic U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, joined by Buckeye State Sen. Sherrod Brown, sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Tristan Brown, the deputy administrator of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to underline the need for the rule, which would require “railroads to make real-time information regarding the contents of train cars available to emergency responders and to proactively push this information to emergency responders in the event of a derailment or other accident,” the lawmakers said in a statement.
The lawmakers pointed directly at the “disastrous” Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in February that prompted both a raft of federal and state-level reform legislation and a firestorm of criticism of the freight hauling giant’s handling of the incident.
Earlier this year, Casey, Fetterman, and Brown joined to back a pair of proposals aimed at preventing future accidents. One, the Assistance for Local Heroes During Train Crises Act, was aimed at supporting first responders on the front lines of hazardous train derailments.
The second, the Railway Safety Act, sought to boost penalties for railroads involved in toxic spills and took other steps to prevent future train derailments.
Emergency service workers and residents impacted by such derailments “should not have to deal with both hazardous conditions and an intentional lack of critical information…we owe it to the first responders of East Palestine, Darlington Township [in Beaver County, Pa.], and the surrounding areas in Ohio and Pennsylvania to ensure that the information-sharing failures of this derailment, which put first responders needlessly and irresponsibly in additional danger, do not happen again,” the lawmakers wrote.
In the wake of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board held hearings in East Palestine that shed light on communication breakdowns that endangered first responders, the Democratic lawmakers said in their statement.
Testimony in those hearings also revealed that whileNorfolk Southernwas able to alert contractors about the specific contents of the trains “within minutes” it took far longer to provide the same information to first responders, the lawmakers said.
That resulted in “firefighters arriving at the scene without knowing what materials were involved in the fire they had to fight, as shown by harrowing footage played during the hearing,” the lawmakers said.
“While Congress considers additional legislative action on this issue, including the bipartisan, bicameral Railway Safety Act, we are glad to see administrative action on this issue and give this effort our full support,” the Democratic lawmakers said.
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