Saturday, July 13, 2024

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

Two congressional representatives from Ohio have introduced their own rail safety bill that excludes a train crew size requirement.

The bill, Reducing Accidents in Locomotives Act, or RAIL Act, calls for the promulgation of new rules that are based off of the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) train. The bill also calls for railroad companies to provide advanced notice to state emergency response commissioners of trains carrying 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. This is a good first step towards better rail infrastructure, but we know there is still more to be done to protect our communities,” said Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Ohio, in a Friday release. 

But the bill doesn’t include a provision calling for a train crew size of at least two members. Rail unions have said that requiring train crew size would bolster rail safety, especially in light of the increased use of longer trains.

“The RAIL Act will help make the freight rail system safer for rail workers and communities like East Palestine. We are committed to working with Congress on additional safety reforms,”  Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Greg Regan said in a statement to FreightWaves. TTD is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

But TTD sees the removal of the provision on train crew size as caving into political pressure: “It’s shameful that rail industry lobbyists are still prioritizing profits over people by opposing commonsense measures like two-person crew requirements,” Regan continued. 

On the issue of train crew size, the RAIL Act contrasts with the rail safety bill sponsored earlier this month by a bipartisan group of five senators, including Ohio senators J.D. Vance, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat,, which calls for a freight train to have a crew size of at least two people.

There are other differences between this bill, according to TTD. Among them, the RAIL Act doesn’t include the sections in the Brown-Vance bill on research and development grants and appropriations for tank cars because that Republicans objected to appropriating money in legislation that hasn’t had a prior authorization, TTD said. The RAIL Act also sticks to the remedies prescribed in the bill and doesn’t take into account “any other requirements that the Secretary [of Transportation] deems as necessary.”

Other provisions of the RAIL Act, according to Syke’s news release on Friday,  include improving the information provided on the safety placards of tank cars; strengthening regulations to prevent wheel bearing failures; increasing the penalties for violating rail safety regulations; increasing the funding provided to first responders for hazardous materials training; and auditing federal rail inspection programs. 

“It is imperative that Congress swiftly works to make much-needed changes to our nation’s railway safety standards,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. “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. I look forward to working with Rep. Sykes to get our critical legislation across the finish line.”

Both representatives noted in the release that Ohio ranks third worst in the U.S. for serious train accidents and hazardous material spills. 

Co-sponsoring the bill were these members of the Ohio delegation: Republican Reps. Max Miller, Troy Balderson, Mike Carey, Dave Joyce and Mike Turner, as well as Democrat Reps. Greg Landsman, Marcy Kaptur, Joyce Beatty and Shontel Brown.

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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

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

Norfolk Southern discovers issue with wheel sets

Freight rail industry outlines next moves to improve safety

Rail workers say safety legislation doesn’t go far enough

The post Ohio House members introduce their version of a bill addressing rail safety appeared first on FreightWaves.

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