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Ohio train derailment: House lawmakers introduce bill to shore up rail safety

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 3/17/2023 Cami Mondeaux
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A group of bipartisan lawmakers in Ohio is seeking to bolster rail safety regulations in an attempt to avoid future derailments like those seen across the country in recent weeks.

Ohio Reps. Bill Johnson (R) and Emilia Sykes (D) introduced the Reducing Accidents in Locomotives Act on Friday, which would implement new rail safety measures and impose financial penalties if those requirements are not met. The bill marks a rare show of bipartisanship, as 11 Republican and Democratic members of Ohio’s congressional delegation have co-sponsored the legislation.


“The East Palestine train derailment has upended the lives of those living in East Palestine and the surrounding region. It is imperative that Congress swiftly works to strengthen our nation’s railway safety standards,” Johnson said in a statement. “The bipartisan RAIL Act would bring forth effective and responsible changes to the way the rail industry operates to help prevent railway accidents and keep communities across America safe.”

The legislation requests a number of changes to the nation’s rail system by directing the Federal Rail Administration to recommend operational changes based on the current investigation of the National Transportation Safety Board. As part of those changes, the Transportation Department will be tasked with implementing new rail car restrictions on things such as length, weight, speed, and track standards.

Under the legislation, the Transportation secretary would also be required to implement regulations for rail car defect detection for trains carrying hazardous materials.

Rail carriers would be required to notify state emergency response officials if they are carrying hazardous materials and ensure that each train is operated by a team of at least two people. The bill would also allow for increased funding to go toward training first responders on how to handle hazardous materials.

“The RAIL Act will implement effective measures to keep our communities safe, hold railroad corporations accountable, and ensure that no American living close to our 140,000 miles of railroad track has to worry about the threat of a toxic derailment in their backyard,” Sykes said. “This is a good first step towards better rail infrastructure, but we know there is still more to be done to protect our communities.”

Any rail carriers caught in violation of those mandates would be subject to penalties, which could be increased under the bill.

The legislation comes in response to the fiery crash of a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials on Feb. 3 that caused 38 train cars to derail from the tracks. The incident prompted the evacuation of about half the residents in East Palestine, Ohio, amid concerns about long-term health effects due to the released chemicals.

Since then, a number of other rail cars have derailed in states such as Kentucky, Arizona, and Washington.

The bill also marks a break from the partisan conflict that has surrounded the train derailments as lawmakers on both sides have tried to pin the disaster on the opposite party. Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for what they say has been an inadequate response, particularly as the president has yet to visit the derailment site.

The Senate introduced a similar bill earlier this month seeking tighter rail safety regulations, which includes several of the same provisions included in the latest legislation. Meanwhile, several government agencies have opened investigations into the incident, with officials saying it could take weeks before conclusions are made.


Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), co-sponsor of the Senate bill, praised the House legislation on Friday.

“This is a great bill. I'm very glad to see that congressman Johnson has such a strong, bipartisan group from the Ohio delegation behind it," he said in a statement. "This is a huge development for improving railway safety in this country. In the coming weeks, my top priority will be doing my part to get the Railway Safety Act through the Senate.”


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Tags: Ohio, Congress, House of Representatives, trains, News

Original Author: Cami Mondeaux

Original Location: Ohio train derailment: House lawmakers introduce bill to shore up rail safety


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