Ohio train derailment: Fetterman unveils Democratic legislation to bolster rail safety

Election 2022 Biden
Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman speaks at a campaign rally with President Joe Biden on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Ohio train derailment: Fetterman unveils Democratic legislation to bolster rail safety

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Three Democratic senators unveiled a new bill aimed at tackling rail safety concerns amid the fallout of the Norfolk Southern train derailment last month that spilled toxic chemicals into East Palestine, Ohio.

Sens. John Fetterman (D-PA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced the Railway Accountability Act Thursday to expand railway legislation introduced earlier this month. The Railway Accountability Act orders the Federal Railroad Administration to study derailments and defects as well as implement stronger safety measures.

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“This bill will implement commonsense safety reforms, hold the big railway companies accountable, protect the workers who make these trains run, and help prevent future catastrophes that endanger communities near railway infrastructure,” Fetterman said in a statement.

Under the proposal, FRA would investigate “wheel-related failures and derailments,” strengthen “switchyard safety practices,” and require freight rail firms to use a “close call” reporting system, among other provisions. It builds on the bipartisan Railway Safety Act the trio of Casey, Brown, and Fetterman presented earlier this month with Sens. J.D. Vance (R-OH), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The Railway Safety Act, which hasn’t yet received a vote in the upper chamber, enhances safety regulations for railway companies but was specific to “trains transporting hazardous materials.” The bill also called for increasing the tempo of rail car inspections and mandating a two-person crew to work on trains transporting hazardous content. Some Republicans have voiced skepticism over it.

Unlike the Railway Safety Act, the Railway Accountability Act does not appear to have garnered bipartisan support for its introduction, but the trio underscored its importance.

“Rail lobbyists have fought for years to protect their profits at the expense of communities like East Palestine and Steubenville and Sandusky. These commonsense safety measures will finally hold big railroad companies accountable, make our railroads and the towns along them safer, and prevent future tragedies,” Brown said.

In recent weeks, the three Democrats also proposed the Assistance for Local Heroes During Train Crises Act to provide aid to first responders who have dealt with the fallout from hazardous train derailments.

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying dangerous chemicals such as vinyl chloride and combustible liquids derailed. Authorities subsequently initiated a controlled burn in hopes of preventing an explosion. Vinyl chloride has been linked to liver damage and a rare form of liver cancer. Some residents have reported a range of symptoms during the aftermath.

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On Thursday, a BNSF Railway train transporting ethanol derailed in Minnesota and caught fire, though there were no immediate injuries.

Fetterman is currently in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He checked himself into the hospital to receive treatment for clinical depression last month, which followed a brief hospital stint earlier in February for feeling lightheaded. He is slated to return to the Senate next month.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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