NTSB's Report on East Palestine Due Out in June

Senate Committee Considers Agency Chairwoman’s Nomination
Jennifer Homendy
NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy testifies April 10. (Senate Commerce, Science Transportation Committee via X)

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The head of the National Transportation Safety Board told senators the agency expects to unveil a report in June detailing last year’s freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 10, NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy detailed the report’s timeline while acknowledging provisions in a committee-passed freight rail measure.

Last year, the panel approved the Railway Safety Act. The bill’s approval came soon after a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 3, 2023. Last month, President Joe Biden nominated Homendy to a three-year appointment as the independent agency’s chairwoman. Homendy has served in that capacity since 2021.

“It addresses several of NTSB’s open safety recommendations, including information for emergency responders,” Homendy said, referencing the Railway Safety Act. “We still have work to do to conclude our East Palestine investigation and issue those recommendations. That would conclude at the end of June. And we will provide that information for the committee.”

In addition to last year’s derailment, the agency is reviewing high-profile aviation incidents as well as the recent collapse of a bridge in Baltimore, among other events. Ensuring attention to detail in NTSB reports is among Homendy’s priorities, as she told senators in response to a questionnaire: “We cannot rush an investigation. The NTSB is meticulous, and the public and Congress must be able to count on us to determine the right solutions to improve safety.”

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Railway Safety Act’s co-lead sponsor, pointed to the bill’s aim of improving safety. Or as he put it, “Myself and a number of colleagues that I have on this committee have worked on a railway safety bill.” Specifically, the legislation would update certain programs and operations at the Federal Railroad Administration and related transportation agencies.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Democrats are promoting the Reducing Accidents in Locomotives (RAIL) Act, sponsored by Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Ohio). At a discussion forum transportation policymakers hosted last month, Sykes highlighted her bill.

“Hearing firsthand from rail workers and community members is critical to enacting rail safety legislation that meets the needs of people and holds the freight rail industry accountable,” she said.

Reps. Rick Larsen of Washington and Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey joined Sykes in pressing for the bill’s consideration.

“Safety in every mode of transportation, including rail, should always be the priority of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” said Larsen, that panel’s ranking member. “Committee Democrats have consistently asked for a hearing on rail safety in the wake of the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine [Ohio].”

J. Todd Inman (left) and Alvin Brown

J. Todd Inman (left) and Alvin Brown are shown during their confirmation hearings. (Senate Commerce Committee)

Meanwhile, stakeholders continue to remind the public of ongoing safety improvements across their operations.

“It is important to acknowledge that most rail derailments are relatively minor and primarily occur in rail yards at low speeds, resulting in minimal, if any, impact on local communities. However, on the rare occasions when a serious accident occurs, the effects on a community can be significant. That’s why railroads strive to reduce the frequency and severity of all accidents through daily, tangible safety initiatives,” according to the Association of American Railroads’ “Building a Safer Future: Examining Freight Rail’s Comprehensive Safety Framework” issued this year. “Recognizing that safety is a collective responsibility, railroads actively partner with employees, customers, policymakers and communities to achieve the ultimate goal: a future free of rail accidents.”

The Senate recently confirmed two nominees for NTSB — former senior DOT official J. Todd Inman and former Jacksonville, Fla., Mayor Alvin Brown.

“I’m honored to have been appointed and confirmed to the NTSB and look forward to continue working to improve transportation safety,” Brown said in a statement the agency provided. “The NTSB is the international gold standard.”

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