Aerial view of the train derailment wreckage in East Palestine, Ohio, Feb. 5, 2023. (NTSB).
(*This story was updated at 4:26 p.m. on Thursday, 3/23/23 to update the party affiliation of Nick LaLota R-N.Y.)
U.S. Reps. Chris Deluzio D-17th District, and Nick LaLota R-N.Y., have introduced a version of bipartisan rail safety legislation in the House, part of an ongoing push to hold Norfolk Southern railroad responsible for a February derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and toughen rules to prevent future wrecks.
The legislation is the House companion bill to the Railway Safety Act of 2023, introduced earlier this month 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.
“For the sake of my Beaver County constituents who have had their lives upended by Norfolk Southern’s derailment, we need Congress to confront the rail industry and come together across party lines to protect Americans and make our rail system safer,” Deluzio said in a statement. “I will keep fighting for every one of my constituents who Norfolk Southern has hurt through their greed and incompetence.”
Darlington Township, Beaver County, in Deluzio’s district, was also affected by the wreck of the Norfolk Southern train that carried hazardous materials.
Residents have raised concerns about how the air, water, and soil in the area were affected after the railroad conducted a controlled release of vinyl chloride a few days after the derailment, claiming it was necessary to avoid an explosion.
“What happened in East Palestine is nothing short of a tragedy, an environmental disaster, and it needs a bipartisan solution. We need to assure Americans that their Congress is actively working to ensure that this doesn’t happen anywhere else, whether it be Long Island or Western Pennsylvania,” LaLota said in a statement.
The rail safety legislation would strengthen requirements for wayside hotbox defect detectors, which are meant to alert a train’s crew to an overheated bearing, and are being investigated in the East Palestine derailment.
According to a report on the derailment from the National Transportation Safety Board, the hotbox detectors the Norfolk Southern train passed by indicated it was heating up, but no alarms sounded because it did not exceed the railroad’s own safety limits.
The legislation also enhances safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, and establishes a requirement for railroads to operate with crews of at least two people, and would increase fines for rail carriers.
Deluzio and Ro Khanna, D-Calif. introduced a separate piece of legislation earlier this month 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 Department of Transportation requirement, only one car carrying hazardous material would be required.
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