On the one-year anniversary of the devastating derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, there has yet to be a bill passed regulating certain practices by railroads in hopes of preventing another rail disaster like we saw on Feb. 3, 2023.
On March 3, 2023, Senators J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, along with Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Bob Casey Jr., D-Penn., and John Fetterman, D-Penn., introduced legislation S. 576, The Railway Safety Act of 2023, to prevent future train disasters like the derailment that devastated East Palestine, Ohio. The bill will take several key steps to improve rail safety protocols, such as enhancing safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors, creating a permanent requirement for railroads to operate with at least two-person crews, increasing fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers, and more, according to the press release on Senator Vance's website.
"The Norfolk Southern train derailment left Pennsylvania and Ohio families, businesses and first responders grappling with a disaster that spilled hazardous materials in their community. It shouldn't have happened here, and it shouldn't happen anywhere else in America," said Sen. Casey. "The Railway Safety Act will make freight rail safer, hold rail companies accountable for putting communities and workers in harm's way and protect people over profits."
As of this date, the Railway Safety Act has stalled.
TWO-PERSON CREW ISSUE STILL UNRESOLVED
On Feb. 3, 2024, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) on its website stated, "The Ohio derailment was proof that it is a safety necessity as that crew applied handbrakes to the two railcars at the head of the train, uncoupled the head-end locomotives and moved the locomotives about 1 mile from the uncoupled railcar according to the NTSB. This was all done by the two crew members and a trainee."
The two-person crew issue remains contentious among the railroads. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), on July 28, 2022, announced a proposed rule requiring a minimum of two train crewmembers for over-the-road railroad operations. On Dec. 14, 2023, the FRA held a hearing on the proposed rule. Existing FRA regulations do not mandate minimum crew staffing requirements. According to FreightWaves in a Jan.3, 2024, article, the FRA submitted its final rule on train crew staffing to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, with the final rule potentially being released in March 2024, according to OMB's website.
The Association of American Railroads stated in a fact sheet, "Efforts to require at least two-person crews, including via regulation, lack a safety justification; ignore the decades of safe and successful use of single-person crews at some U.S. freight railroads and in passenger and freight rail systems throughout the world; upend meaningful collective bargaining, and undermine the rail industry's ability to compete against less climate-friendly forms of transportation."
There are at least 11 states that have enacted requirements for freight trains to have at least two crew members.
"Trains continue to derail, long trains continue to pose dangers to train crews and communities, rail managers continue to harass and intimidate workers, and the rail industry continues to spend big money to vehemently oppose all legislative efforts to make railroads and communities safer," said BLET. "The BLET continues to work for stronger federal regulations and national laws that would hold the industry accountable. It's time to stop putting profits over safety."
Link to Feb 7, 2024, on current status of S. 576, Railway Safety Act of 2023 https://www.cbo.gov/…
Railway Safety Act of 2023 proposed March 3, 2023: https://www.vance.senate.gov/…
FRA NPRM and meeting on crew size: https://railroads.dot.gov/….
FreightWaves Jan. 3, 2024, story addressing the two-man crew issue: https://www.freightwaves.com/…
AAR Freight Rail and Crew Size fact sheet: https://www.aar.org/…
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