A bipartisan railway safety bill prompted by a recent train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, has garnered the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Introduced by Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the legislation would implement new regulations and safety protocols for trains transporting hazardous materials.
“In the aftermath of the terrible accident in East Palestine, this is precisely the kind of proposal we need to see in Congress,” Schumer told his colleagues from the Senate floor on March 1. “A bipartisan rail safety bill—one that includes provisions relevant to the accident that happened a month ago.”
Praising the bipartisan efforts of the bill’s sponsors, the majority leader added that he would work with them to ensure it is passed by both chambers of Congress.
“This bill is as smart as it is necessary,” he said.
According to a preliminary report from the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), the Feb. 3 derailment of a 151-car Norfolk Southern Railway train carrying hazardous chemicals through East Palestine was caused by an overheated wheel bearing.
To prevent such an incident from occurring again, the Railway Safety Act of 2023 (pdf) would require the installation of one hot bearing detector for every 10-mile segment of track used by trains carrying hazardous materials and the establishment of enhanced performance and maintenance standards for those detectors.
Other safety measures outlined in the bill include two-person crews on every train, standard emergency response procedures for crew members, stricter inspection protocols for trains transporting hazardous chemicals, and the provision of advanced notice to emergency response officials when a train is carrying such materials through their state.
Additionally, the legislation would increase the maximum fines on railroad companies for safety violations while also allocating funds for research and enhanced HAZMAT training for first responders.
Schumer, noting that NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy described the derailment as “100 percent preventable,” said it was incumbent upon Congress to hold the railroad industry accountable.
“The fault here lies with the rail companies who spent years lobbying to slash crucial safety regulations intended to keep people safe,” Schumer said. “It has created dangerous culture, where the profit motive is king above all others, even above the need to keep people safe.”
In the wake of the derailment and backlash, Norfolk Southern has donated $300,000 to the East Palestine City School District, reimbursed the local fire department for the $825,000 worth of equipment used in the emergency response efforts, and reimbursed first responders for an additional $220,000 of new equipment.
The company, which is facing a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of affected East Palestine residents, has also been ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up all of the chemicals spilled by the crash.
“Norfolk Southern remains committed to the people of the community and will continue its work to help them thrive,” the company said in a Feb. 23 statement. “Already, we have made significant progress in cleaning the site, engaging the community, and providing financial support for families and small businesses, all to help East Palestine.”