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New bill would lower threshold for labeling trains 'high-hazard'

Emma Lee

Pennsylvania Congressman Chris Deluzio on Tuesday helped introduce a new bill that would require railways to label more trains carrying potentially dangerous materials as highly hazardous.

The Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accident Instances Locally – or DERAIL – Act would broaden the definition by which trains get classified as a “high-hazard flammable trains” and require rail operators to report trains with the kinds of chemicals that were carried in the train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3.

The vinyl chloride that was carried in five cars and was ultimately burned off to prevent an explosion is not, according to current law, a chemical that would qualify because it is considered a Class 2 flammable gas. The proposed law would require Class 2 flammable gasses to be labeled as highly hazardous and give the Secretary of Transportation additional authority to include other materials.

Even if vinyl chloride was considered a highly hazardous substance, the East Palestine train wouldn’t have been labeled as such because current law requires there to be either 20 cars carrying hazardous materials in a row or 35 hazardous cars in total for a train to receive the designation. Under the proposed law, a train would only have to include one car with highly hazardous materials to be designated as such.

Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said that he and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro were calling on Congress to take action on rail safety and, in particular, how trains with hazardous materials are classified.

"There is something fundamentally wrong when a train like this can come into a state and the current law does not require…them to notify the state or local officials,” he said. “That simply has to be changed. The fact that this train did not qualify under current law, requiring the railroad company to make that notification. It's just absurd. It makes absolutely no sense at all.

According to a press release, the bill would also require trains carrying these materials to travel at slower speeds, in newer cars, with better braking equipment and additional reporting requirements.

“I represent constituents in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, who live, work, and play just miles from the site of the Norfolk Southern derailment,” said Deluzio in the press release. “They want answers, accountability, and assurance that something like this will never happen again. For too long, railroads have prioritized profit ahead of public safety and their workers, and it is time to regulate the railroads.”

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Oliver Morrison