May 2023 Federal Issues Report from Tim Gella, Federal Issues Chair
Since Feb. 3, 2023, when a Norfolk Southern Railway train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, bills have been introduced in Congress.
Lawmakers were quick to propose new laws following the derailment, which occurred near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Here are two news summaries of what’s in the works:
From Julie Sneider, "Progressive Railroading", May 2023
• Railway Safety Act (S. 576), introduced March 1 by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), which would increase requirements for trains transporting hazardous materials, as well as develop additional regulations such as hazmat train length and weight. The bill includes a two-person train crew mandate.
• Railway Accountability Act (S. 1044), introduced March 29 by Democrat Sens. Fetterman and Casey (Pa), and Brown (Oh), which calls for directing the FRA to study wheel-related failures and derailments; enhance switch yard safety practices; enact commonsense brake safety measures; and require large freight railroads to join a confidential close-call reporting system.
Pending in the House:
• Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accident Instances Locally (DERAIL) Act (H.R. 1238), introduced Feb. 28 by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.), which would broaden the definition of what is classified as a “high-hazard flammable train” and require railroads to take various safety precautions;
• Reducing Accidents In Locomotives Act (H.R. 1633), introduced March 17 by Reps. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) and Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Ohio), which would direct the FRA to recommend changes to rail operations — such as train length, weight, speed and track standards — increase funding for first responder hazmat training, and increase train inspections, but not require two-person train crews; and
• Railway Safety Act of 2023 (H.R. 1674), introduced March 21 by Deluzio and Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.), which is the companion bill for S. 576.
Although some hearings have been held, a bill has yet to pass out of a committee. President Biden threw his support behind passage of the Railway Safety Act when it was introduced in the Senate.
Both the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties have called on Congress to pass bipartisan rail safety legislation. They say: "The safety of our local communities is paramount for county officials. With roughly 140,000 miles of track nationwide, there are few areas of the country where rail does not leave its footprint directly,".
The National Transportation Safety Board is examining a defective wheelset as a potential cause of the accident.