Buttigieg Calls on Congress to Pass Rail Bill

NTSB Report on East Palestine Derailment Due in June
Pete Buttigieg
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says, “I take every opportunity to renew my urgent call for Congress to act on the bipartisan Railway Safety Act." (Associated Press/David Zalubowski)

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More than a year after a train derailment in Ohio captured mainstream attention, the nation’s top transportation officer again called on Congress to advance a freight safety bill.

Testifying before a House budget panel on April 30, Secretary Pete Buttigieg pressed for passage of bipartisan legislation designed to enhance rail safety policies. Last year, the Railway Safety Act gained approval from the Senate Commerce Committee. It awaits consideration in the chamber. A House version of the bill has yet to be scheduled for a committee vote.

“I take every opportunity to renew my urgent call for Congress to act on the bipartisan Railway Safety Act,” Buttigieg told the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. “We will continue to do everything that we can that doesn’t require an act of Congress. But given that it’s been more than a year since East Palestine [Ohio], we strongly believe that it is time for Congress to act because that bipartisan legislation would give us a stronger hand and more tools.”

Sponsored by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R) and endorsed by the White House, the bill would update certain policies at the Federal Railroad Administration as well as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown, left, JD Vance

Brown and Vance 

RELATED: Buttigieg Takes Railroads to Task on Safety

“My message to East Palestine is that I’ll keep fighting for you by holding everyone involved in the recovery efforts accountable — whether it’s the administration or Norfolk Southern,” Brown said in March. “I don’t want any other community in Ohio or around the country to deal with a disaster like this ever again.”

On Feb. 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine, causing damage to the perimeter. A National Transportation Safety Board report detailing the events about the derailment will be unveiled in June, the independent agency’s leader recently told senators.

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Industry stakeholders repeatedly share updates regarding safety improvements in rail connectivity operations.

“As the safest way to move freight over land, freight railroads are committed to driving down train derailments, especially on the mainline,” according to the Association of American Railroads. “With that goal in mind, railroads take a strategic approach to where they make network investments. For example, track and equipment failures are two of the leading causes of mainline derailments. Thanks in large part to freight rail’s consistent investments in network maintenance and capital expenditures and deployment of advanced inspection technologies that identify wheel and track issues before they become problems, the equipment-caused accident rate has dropped 31%, and track-caused accident rate has dropped 50% between 2000 and 2023.”