U.S. Senate leader Schumer urges federal safety probe into all major freight railroads

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to the media in Washington
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By Richard Cowan and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday urged a federal investigation into safety practices of all seven major freight railroads, following the East Palestine, Ohio derailment of a Norfolk Southern Corp train.

In a letter, Schumer urged the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to launch an investigation of Norfolk Southern, BNSF Railway, CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and Kansas City Southern.

Schumer said that over the past five years, freight rail companies have had "over 26,500 accidents and incidents and 2,768 deaths, all while cutting roughly 20% of their workforce."

In a Senate speech on Wednesday, Schumer accused the seven freight carriers of a "dangerous industry-wide trend" that he argues "puts profits over people's safety."

"Norfolk Southern isn't the only rail company that has spent years lobbying to loosen regulations, neglect safety upgrades and lay off workers," Schumer said.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy told reporters on the sidelines at an event she had received Schumer's letter but was unclear if the agency has the authority to conduct such a broad based probe.

"We'll evaluate it and see what's possible," Homendy said.

The NTSB said last week given the number and significance of recent Norfolk Southern accidents it was opening what it called a special investigation and urged "the company to take immediate action today to review and assess its safety practices."

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, resulting in the release of over 1 million gallons of harmful pollutants. Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, who testified last week before a Senate panel, will appear before another Senate committee on March 22.

Shaw has apologized for the Ohio derailment and promised to improve his company's safety practices, while also devoting resources to cleaning up the East Palestine site.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)