Railway Safety Act would have made a difference in East Palestine derailment, Sen. Sherrod Brown says
One year after the train derailment in East Palestine, Congress has yet to take action on bills that would increase safety requirements for railroads.
A Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3, 2023, in the small village on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, spilling toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen vinyl chloride. Since then, there has been an outpouring of support for legislation to increase safety standards for major railroad companies, which experts say remain largely unregulated by the federal government.
U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance introduced the Railway Safety Act last March. The bill is designed to enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, increase rail inspections and reduce the risk of wheel bearing failures, among other measures. It passed out of committee in May but has not been taken up by the Senate for a full vote. Lobbying from major railroad companies has caused the bill to stall, Brown contended.
"It's not just this railroad in this community that compromised their safety," he said. "It's their continued push to get far too many congressmen to back off support of this bill."
The bill isn't dead, Brown said.
"This should have been acted on before," he said. "I'm pushing hard with Senator [Chuck] Schumer, the majority leader, [Senator] Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, to get this scheduled on the floor. It comes down to the power of the rail industry."
The derailment in East Palestine would not have been as catastrophic had the Railway Safety Act been in place, Brown said.
"I think there's no question that if that law had been in place East Palestine wouldn't have suffered as much as they did in those months after the derailment," he said.
East Palestine has been working to rebuild the town and its image, said East Palestine City Councilmember Linda May.
"The majority of people in this community, and it is the majority, are very much interested in how do we build back our community?" she said. "How do we build it back even better?"
A version of the bill has also stalled in the U.S. House. Sponsored by former Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican who until recently represented Ohio's 6th congressional district, and Democratic Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes, who represents the 13th district, the Reducing Accidents in Locomotives, or RAIL, Act is similar to the Senate version but removes a requirement in the Senate bill that every train have a well-trained two-person crew.