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Latest rail safety bill takes aim at wheel-related train derailments

Lawmakers from Pennsylvania and Ohio have introduced another rail safety bill in Congress that addresses rail car inspections and maintenance and calls for the Federal Railroad Administration to examine the causes of and mitigation strategies for wheel-related train derailments.

The bill, called the Railway Accountability Act, was introduced by Pennsylvania Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, all Democrats, and builds on another rail safety bill they introduced with other lawmakers in early March. 

The March bill calls for establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors; compelling railroads to notify state emergency responders when trains carrying hazardous materials are passing through their states; increasing penalties for violating rail safety regulations; and mandating train crews of at least two or more workers.

This latest bill focuses on rail car inspection and maintenance, as well train operations at the switchyard. Included in the bill are the following provisions:

Compel the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to examine the causes of and mitigation strategies for wheel-related train derailments, with an eye toward creating regulation that would come from the findings. This would include examining why and when vertical split rim failures occur.

Prohibit trains from being moved during brake inspections.

Require that a mechanic inspects a locomotive or rail car.

Compel FRA to review regulations related to train operations in switchyards, while also directing railroads to update the plans on switchyard operations that they submit to FRA for the risk reduction program. According to a one-page summary for the bill, this would call attention to the management of in-train forces and the arrangement of the train consist.

Have FRA require the Class I railroads to make safety waivers public and easily available online.

Ensure that communication checks between the front and end of a train don’t fail, including the signals for emergency brakes.

Ensure that the Class I railroads are participating in the confidential close call reporting system by requiring their participation if the railroad had paid the maximum penalty for violating rail safety regulations in the last 15 years.

Require that railroads provide warning equipment to railroad watchmen and lookouts. 

The bill has garnered support from several unions, including the Transport Workers of America, the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Division.

“Too many communities in Pennsylvania and across the Nation have suffered from catastrophic train derailments. The Railway Accountability Act would implement additional common-sense safety measures to help prevent these disasters in the future,” Casey said in a Thursday news release. “Along with the Railway Safety Act, this bill will make freight rail safer and protect communities from preventable tragedies.”

This latest bill comes amid heightened congressional activity to address rail safety concerns following the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio.

In addition, another group of congressional lawmakers has introduced its own rail safety bill designed to build upon the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board as that agency looks into the causes of the Feb. 3 derailment. 

NS President and CEO Alan Shaw took the hot seat twice last month and fielded senators’ inquiries about the February derailment at hearings in early March and late March.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related links:

Federal agencies, senators unveil plans aimed at boosting rail safety

Rail workers say safety legislation doesn’t go far enough

Freight rail industry outlines next moves to improve safety

Senators prod Norfolk Southern CEO on views about rail safety, PSR

Ohio House members introduce their version of a bill addressing rail safety

Congressional lawmakers want to fine-tune certain initiatives in rail safety bill

For more articles on rail safety, click here.

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