Nationwide rail inspection initiative starts in East Palestine

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Ohio Sens. Brown, Vance introduce Railway Safety Act of 2023.

A nationwide rail inspection initiative focused on routes with hazardous materials will start in East Palestine, where a Norfolk Southern train derailment spilled toxic chemicals and led to a controlled burn of those substances.

“We need to keep our nation’s railroads safe,” Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose said during a Wednesday afternoon media briefing on the aftermath of the Feb. 3 derailment in northern Ohio near the border with Pennsylvania.

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The nationwide focused inspections for routes that carry high hazard flammable trains and other trains carrying large volumes of hazardous materials will evaluate track quality, signal and control infrastructure, crew and dispatch operations, mechanical equipment and hazardous materials packaging and compliance, Bose said.

Also today, Sens. Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance of Ohio along with Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023, inspired by the East Palestine disaster.

The legislation would:

  • Require rail carriers to give advance notice to state emergency response officials before running trains carrying hazardous materials;
  • Mandate trains run with at least two-person crews;
  • Require better monitoring of railcar wheel bearings — which overheated in the Ohio train accident, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, and likely caused the train to jump the tracks; and
  • Increase penalties for wrongdoing in the industry.
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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who also spoke during the media briefing, said Wednesday was his fourth trip back to the village of about 4,700 residents just south of Youngstown since the derailment.

“I continue to be impressed by the resiliency of the people of the village,” said DeWine, who was flanked by Ohio first lady Fran DeWine.

The governor said he also was impressed by the magnitude of the operation from state and federal agencies.

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He reiterated that he will not waiver from goals set to hold Norfolk Southern accountable; focus on the safety of East Palestine residents; testing air and water, and ground where appropriate; to continue to report results as they get them and also what is not known; and to continue a holistic approach to help the local people get back to normal.

The derailment aftermath also highlighted the need for specific training with participation from railroad personnel, especially because the majority of Ohio’s rail miles are in rural communities served by volunteer fire departments.

DeWine said he has been in talks with Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw and CSX CEO Joseph Hinrichs.

“Both of them expressed a desire to work with us to dramatically increase that training,” DeWine said.

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