Springfield calls for state, federal government action to address rail safety

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Commissioner says actions by railroad, feds ‘put the public in peril’

The city of Springfield is joining in a growing chorus of Ohio voices calling for reform and accountability in rail safety in the state.

Springfield city commissioners on Tuesday night adopted a resolution calling upon the legislative branches of the federal government and state of Ohio to enact legislation to improve rail safety following recent train derailments in the state, including in Springfield.

The emergency legislation was drafted after the March 4 Norfolk Southern train derailment accident on the city’s eastern perimeter, the second such incident within a 40-day period in the state of Ohio. The local derailment did not rise to the detrimental level of the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, where officials continue to monitor potential toxic levels of chemical exposure to air, land and water.

The East Palestine incident prompted Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to file suit against Norfolk Southern this week, alleging the company violated multiple state and federal laws and regulations. It seeks payment for damage done to the local environment, property and finances of residents of the East Palestine community impacted by the dangerous derailment.

In their appeal to state and federal officials for action, Springfield city leaders note that train tracks throughout the city are in operation 24/7 by train operators including Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, BNSF Railway, Canadian National Railway, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern Railway, Union Pacific Railroad and others.

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City Commissioner David Estrop offered some specifics in reforms he would like to see:

“We need to apply safety standards in a more rigorous way, particularly in regard to the construction of some tank cars and notification about what’s going through the state of Ohio and through our communities. The Norfolk Southern railroad runs right past City Hall and right through the heart of downtown Springfield. We want to make sure that the rails are safe.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

He criticized Norfolk Southern and the federal government for actions making regulations less stringent.

“Apparently they reduced some of the safety inspections, reduced crews and I think put the public in peril. I think some of those measures have to be restored,” Estrop said.

City Manager Bryan Heck noted that Ohio’s two senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican JD Vance, are introducing bipartisan legislation to require advanced safety features for Ohio’s rail system.

“The recent events in Ohio alone has shown that investment in the maintenance and operations of that infrastructure has not been good and is failing,” he said. “We want to require these private companies to invest in their infrastructure and to require enhanced safety features and elements.”

Heck said the rail companies have an important role and responsibility.

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“They’re making money through transport, and rail is an important component to our economy in terms of distribution and logistics. But you also have to invest in that infrastructure as a company,” Heck said. “The emphasis needs to be on putting more guidelines and requirements in place in maintaining their assets.”

High-speed rail proposal

Rail operations were also the focus of another commission resolution in support of the Ohio Rail Development Commission’s submission to the 2023 Corridor Identification and Development Program.

City officials endorsed the proposal to create a high-speed rail corridor stretching across the state and connecting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. Commissioner Estrop, who serves as a member of the Clark County Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee, says the group wants to make sure if the proposed high-speed connector moves forward, Springfield will be included in the route.

“We would love to see passenger service restored in the state of Ohio,” Estrop said. “Ohio is behind the eight-ball on this. Other states have moved in front of us. Illinois is an example I’m familiar with because my family lives there. And we are certainly behind Europe. High-speed rail would facilitate economic development and support tourism. The ability to have Springfield included on that route would help the community grow and thrive.”

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