The Railway Safety Act of 2023: Senators propose bipartisan bill due to Ohio train derailment

Legislators from across the country introduced The Railway Safety Act of 2023 in response to the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

>> East Palestine derailment: Timeline of key events in toxic train disaster

News Center 7 previously reported about a month ago, on February 3, that a Norfolk Southern train derailed in northeast Ohio, near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. The approximate 50-car freight train crashed, causing a days-long fire that required a controlled burn to prevent the carriage’s highly toxic and extremely combustible waste product from blowing up and sending metal shrapnel miles away. Authorities handling the crisis evacuated the nearby town of East Palestine as a precautionary measure.

Crews then commenced the controlled release that created a black cloud of smoke emanating from the crash site as well as a massive explosion.

Following the controlled release and the evacuation lift, residents who returned home found their environment and some of their water supply tainted. In addition, some resident began to experience adverse health conditions thought to be associated with their exposure to the chemicals. Symptoms included rashes, headaches, sore throats, and nausea. There were also growing concerns for pregnant women.

Since then, major figures traveled to the crash site to speak of the event, show solidarity with the residents of East Palestine, and demand action from Norfolk Southern.

Now, senators from both sides of the aisle have demanded improved rail safety protocols to prevent future train disasters.

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 proposed “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, and increasing fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers,” among others, the spokesperson for Senator J. D. Vance (R-OH) stated.

“Action to prevent future disasters is critical,” Vance said. “Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again.”

“Rail lobbyists have fought for years to protect their profits at the expense of communities,” Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) stated. “These commonsense bipartisan safety measures will finally hold big railroad companies accountable.”

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 included the following regulatory practices:

  • Enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials by:

    • Including new safety requirements and procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials like vinyl chloride

    • Requiring rail carriers to provide advance notification and information to state emergency response officials about what they are transporting

    • Creating new requirements to prevent blocked railroad crossings

    • Mitigating derailment risk with rules for train size and weight

  • Reduce the risk of wheel bearing failures by:

    • Establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors

    • Requiring trains carrying hazardous materials to be scanned by hotbox detectors every 10 miles

    • Strengthening inspection requirements for rail cars of trains carrying hazardous materials

  • Require well-trained, two-person crews aboard every train

  • Force rail carriers to face heightened fines for wrongdoing by:

    • Substantially increasing the maximum fines USDOT can issue for safety violations

  • Support communities impacted by rail disasters by:

    • Expanding HAZMAT training grants for local law enforcement and first responders through increased registration fees paid by Class I railroads

  • Invest in future safety improvements by:

    • Providing $22,000,000 to the Federal Railroad Administration for research and development grants regarding wayside defect detectors and other rail priorities

    • Providing $5,000,000 to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for expenses related to developing stronger tank car safety features