A bipartisan group of U.S. senators are introducing new railroad safety legislation aimed at preventing disasters like the Feb. 4 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that resulted in toxic chemicals being released into the environment.
The Railway Safety Act of 2023 is sponsored by Ohio Sens. J.D. Vance (R) and Sherrod Brown (D), Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey (D) and John Fetterman (D), along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
Under the proposed legislation, railroads would be subject to numerous new safety regulations, as well as financial penalties.
“Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again. We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind,” Vance said in a statement. “Action to prevent future disasters is critical, but we must never lose sight of the needs of the Ohioans living in East Palestine and surrounding communities. One day, the TV cameras will leave, and the news cycle will move on, but the needs of those Ohioans will remain. I will never stop fighting to deliver the support they need.”
The proposed bill would require rail carriers to give advance notice to state emergency response officials prior to running trains that contain hazardous materials. It also creates new requirements to prevent blocked railroad crossings and adjusts requirements for train size and weight.
Under the new law, rail car inspections would be increased to ensure that all rail cars carrying hazardous materials are regularly inspected by a qualified rail car inspector.
The bill also seeks to reduce the risk of wheel bearing failures by requiring trains carrying hazardous materials to be scanned by hotbox detectors every 10 miles.
The legislation will also require that all trains run with at least a two-person crew, and expand HAZMAT training grants for first responders, subsidized by increased registration fees paid by Class I railroads.
Future safety improvements would be funded through the bill with a $22 million allocation to the Federal Railroad Administration for research and development, as well as $5 million to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to develop stronger tank car safety features.
Rail carriers would also be subject to increased financial penalties by the U.S. Department of Transportation.