The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)

Senators ready rail safety bill after crash

- By Julie Carr Smyth

Railroads like the one involved in last month’s fiery crash and toxic chemical release in Ohio would be subject to a series of new federal safety regulation­s and financial consequenc­es under legislatio­n being introduced Wednesday by the state’s two U.S. senators.

An early copy of the Railway Safety Act of 2023, cosponsore­d by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and JD Vance, a Democrat and Republican, respective­ly, and several others of both parties, was obtained by The Associated Press. The bill responds to the fiery derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train in East Palestine, in northeast Ohio near the Pennsylvan­ia border, on Feb. 3, when 38 cars derailed and more burned.

Though no one was injured or killed, the accident and its aftermath imperiled the entire village and nearby neighborho­ods in both states. It prompted an evacuation of about half the town’s 4,000 residents, an ongoing multigover­nmental emergency response and lingering worries among villagers of long-term health impacts.

The Senate bill aims to address several key regulatory questions that have arisen from the disaster, including why the state of Ohio was not made aware the hazardous load was coming through and why the crew didn’t learn sooner of an impending equipment malfunctio­n.

“Through this legislatio­n, Congress has a real opportunit­y to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again,” Vance said in a statement. “We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastroph­e of this kind.”

The bill

All trains carrying hazardous materials, including those that don’t fall under existing regulation­s for highhazard flammable trains filled with crude oil or ethanol, would face new requiremen­ts under the bill.

Brown, Vance and the bill’s other early co-sponsors — who include Democrats Robert Casey Jr. and John Fetterman of Pennsylvan­ia, and Republican­s Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri — also would increase the maximum fine that the U.S. Department of Transporta­tion can impose for safety violations. It would raise it from $225,000 to up to 1% of a railroad’s annual operating income, which could run into the tens of millions of dollars.

The bill would set nationwide requiremen­ts for installing, maintainin­g and placing devices designed to automatica­lly detect wheel bearing and other mechanical issues, and mandate that they scan trains carrying hazardous materials every 10 miles. The last two detectors the East Palestine train passed were 19 miles apart.

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