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Sen. Sherrod Brown pushes for 2-person crews on all freight trains

Sen. Sherrod Brown speaks at a podium in front of a Norfolk Southern rail yard in Cleveland.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
Sen. Sherrod Brown speaks about the importance of the Railway Safety Act in front of a Norfolk Southern rail yard in Cleveland on March 20, 2023.

Sen. Sherrod Brown is pushing for railroads to require a two-person crew aboard every freight train. That provision is included in the Railway Safety Act he introduced in the Senate earlier this month. But the provision is missing from the House version of the bill.

The requirement is the key difference between the Senate and the House bills. Brown said it’s not something he’s willing to give up on.

“The railroads have successfully kept out of it the requirement to have two people on board," Brown said. "We’ll continue to work towards that.”

It’s increasingly critical for every train to have at least two crew members on it, Jeremy Ferguson with the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union said.

Jeremy Ferguson speaks at a podium in front of a Norfolk Southern rail yard in Cleveland. Behind him are Sen. Sherrod Brown (left) and John Estery (right)
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson speaks about the important of the Railway Safety Act in front of a Norfolk Southern rail yard in Cleveland on March 20, 2023.

“With all these hazardous materials, what we call key trains, that means an excessive amount of hazardous materials on each train, two people ensure that the safety is always going to be there," Ferguson said.

This bill isn't the end for Brown on rail safety.

"We'd also like down the road to address the length of the trains and the weight and some of those, but this is a really strong bill," Brown said. "Good start. We'll have more to do."

CSX engineer and rail union representative John Esterly listed five train wrecks in Ohio in the past six months that he said are linked to the industry practice of running longer trains.

"The last six weeks have been a dark chapter in Ohio's railroad history, a symptom of an industry that has turned its back on its safety of its employees and the communities it serves. The derailment last month in East Palestine was a tragic eye opener in the lack of oversight when it comes to the transportation of hazardous materials by rail," Esterly said. "For too long, the railroad operators have been free to operate as they please. This recklessness has led to a disturbing increase in the frequency and severity of instances in Ohio and beyond."

Brown plans to testify this week in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the bill. The bill is also sponsored by Sen. J.D. Vance, Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Josh Hawley.

Brown will return tomorrow to East Palestine to meet with residents concerned about their health after the fiery derailment last month.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media. A Northeast Ohio native and lifelong listener of public radio, Abigail started in public radio as a news intern at WKSU. She graduated in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Kent State University.