Transportation Leaders Urge Passage of Freight Rail Bill

Biden Administration Launches Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy
freight train wheels
The Senate bill would promote the safe transport of freight along supply chain lines nationwide. (keithbwinn/Getty Images)

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Policymakers are calling on congressional leaders to consider freight safety legislation before the end of the year as the Biden administration enhanced its commitment to supply chain connectivity.

Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R) continue pushing for passage of their committee-approved Railway Safety Act. The bipartisan bill, designed to strengthen safety operations, was crafted soon after a freight train derailment in February in the Buckeye State.

Senate Democratic leaders have signaled the potential for scheduling a floor vote on the measure before adjourning in December. Vance, a staunch advocate for safely boosting freight rail connectivity, recently highlighted a letter from Trent Conaway, the mayor of East Palestine, Ohio.

“The United States Senate owes its constituents the peace of mind that a tragedy like this will not strike in their hometowns. Don’t side with the powerful special interest groups of the ‘Washington Swamp’ — do what’s best for your own people,” Conaway wrote on Nov. 3. “The passage of the Railway Safety Act will not mark the end of East Palestine’s story — there’s much to be done before our community is whole again. But it will go a long way in giving us the peace of mind that our hardships were not in vain and that the reaction to what we endured will save fellow Americans from facing the same fate.”

Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown, left, JD Vance

Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D), left, and JD Vance (R) 

Brown announced a new tranche of emergency aid for East Palestine shortly before the Thanksgiving recess. “East Palestine knows all too well how important well-equipped first responders are to protecting Ohioans,” Brown said Nov. 16, adding, “We’re continuing to work to make this community whole, securing new equipment for East Palestine police officers and firefighters to keep them safe on the job and to protect the community they serve.”

Specifically, the Senate bill would promote the safe transport of freight along supply chain lines nationwide, and it targets policies at multiple agencies, such as the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. It also would mandate the use of certain defect-detection technology and ensure state agencies are equipped with additional information about the type of hazardous materials transported by rail.

The derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in February raised contamination concerns in the region.

Proponents of the measure on the other side of Capitol Hill continue to press for passage of a rail safety bill in the House. “Congress has shamefully done nothing to address the root cause of this disaster,” Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Ohio), a co-sponsor of the House version, said earlier this year. “I introduced the bipartisan RAIL Act to improve rail safety and ensure no community in our nation suffers like East Palestine has, but House Republican leadership has not taken up this common-sense legislation.”

The measure is co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).

President Joe Biden has expressed support for the rail safety legislation. His administration recently announced the launch of the Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy. The office is tasked with overseeing the maintenance of freight networks and supply chains. Central to the office’s aim will be the advancement of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Freight Logistics Optimization Works, or FLOW, program.

“Since President Biden took office we have focused on supply chain improvements, not just to recover from pandemic-driven disruptions but also to make lasting improvements for a stronger and more resilient future,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Nov. 27. “Our new Multimodal Freight Office will lead coordination of our work to strengthen supply chains — including the FLOW data initiative helping companies and ports make better-informed decisions — so that they can move goods more efficiently and keep costs down for Americans.”

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