Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have announced new legislation to improve railway safety and prevent future derailments, like the one that recently devastated their constituents in East Palestine, Ohio.
On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed while traveling through the village of East Palestine—bordering Pennsylvania—resulting in the leakage of toxic chemicals into the ground, water, and air.
Since then, residents have reported adverse health reactions, including rashes, nausea, headaches, burning sensations, and difficulty breathing. And despite state and federal authorities’ assurances that the air and public water are safe, many remain skeptical and concerned about the potential long-term health consequences they could experience from chemical exposure.
“One day, the TV cameras will leave, and the news cycle will move on, but the needs of those Ohioans will remain,” he said. “I will never stop fighting to deliver the support they need.”
“It shouldn’t take a massive railroad disaster for elected officials to put partisanship aside and work together for the people we serve—not corporations like Norfolk Southern,” Brown said on March 1.
“Rail lobbyists have fought for years to protect their profits at the expense of communities like East Palestine and Steubenville and Sandusky,” Brown said. “These commonsense bipartisan safety measures will finally hold big railroad companies accountable, make our railroads and the towns along them safer, and prevent future tragedies, so no community has to suffer like East Palestine again.”
Wheel bearing temperature is monitored by wayside defect detectors, also known as hot bearing detectors. And while the detectors along the train’s route were reportedly working properly on Feb. 3, the distance between detectors was far enough that the wheel bearing was able to reach a critical temperature before setting off any alarms.
The new bill would address that problem by requiring all Class I railroads to install one hot bearing detector for every 10-mile segment of track used by trains carrying hazardous materials. The bill would also implement enhanced performance, repair, and maintenance standards for those detectors and establish standard emergency response protocols for crew members.
Other safety measures outlined in the bill include the requirement of two-person crews on every train, stricter inspection protocols for trains carrying hazardous materials, new regulations on train size and weight, and the requirement that rail carriers provide advanced notice to emergency response officials when hazardous materials are being transported through their state.
But while the bill has received bipartisan support, the question of whether it has enough support to pass both houses of Congress is another story with some elected officials, such as Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), indicating they would prefer to wait for more details about the derailment before passing any new regulations.
“The rail industry has a very high success rate of moving hazardous material—to the point of 99 percent-plus,” he told the outlet. “Let’s not have more burdensome regulations and all this other stuff.”