Democrats demand railway safety

Drone footage shows the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 6, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released by the NTSB. NTSBGov/Handout via REUTERS
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series 2024 Issues
This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Infrastructure

Ohio needs safe and secure railroads for passengers and commodities

The derailment in East Palestine caused mass evacuation and numerous illnesses and injuries. This tragedy demonstrated the need for better railroad safety standards for hazardous loads. President Biden and his Democratic representatives are addressing rail safety using funds from the Infrastructure Law:

  • Workforce education and safety training for railroad employees.
  • Track improvements, upgrades to multiple grade crossings, and bridge rehabilitation for the Napoleon, Defiance & Western Railway and Kanawha River Railroad in Ohio.

The Department of Transportation is holding railroads accountable for safety for workers, passengers, and communities:

  • Instituting an inspection program focused on railcars, tracks, signaling, infrastructure, equipment, and operating practices. “This program in total inspected over 40,000 freight cars, 76,888 miles of track (87% were on routes over which hazardous materials are transported), and thousands of wayside detectors on over 25 different railroads.”
  • Setting up a way for workers to report “close calls” so that dangerous situations can be identified and addressed.
  • Updating minimum and maximum civil penalties for violations.

Improved railway safety regulations include important steps that experts have demanded for years:

  • Require a minimum number of crew on a train.
  • Require railroads supply emergency breathing apparatus for crew and other employees when appropriate.
  • Require railroads to upgrade their tanks carrying hazardous materials.
  • Support first responders with additional training in handling hazardous material and a process for advance notification of hazardous materials transportation through communities.

As a result of pressure from the Biden administration, 89% of railroad workers now have paid sick leave.

In Congress, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown has worked with a bipartisan group of Senators, including J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), to introduce The Railway Safety Act of 2023. The bill is designed to enshrine some of these regulations in law and is currently working its way through Congress.

Most Americans say tougher regulation could have averted Ohio train derailment

That includes 40% of Republicans, 54% of independents and 66% of Democrats, according to the poll’s findings.
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