House Democrats Press Freight Rail Safety

NTSB’s East Palestine Derailment Report Coming in June
Rick Larsen
Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) during a recent House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (T&I Committee Republicans via YouTube)

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Senior Democrats on the transportation committee in the U.S. House are calling on their colleagues to advance rail safety measures.

Following the anniversary of a major train derailment in Ohio, Democratic Reps. Rick Larsen of Washington and Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey called attention to legislation and other initiatives aimed at improving freight rail safety and connectivity nationwide.

“Safety in every mode of transportation, including rail, should always be the priority of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” Larsen, the panel’s ranking member, said March 13 during a roundtable with stakeholders. “Committee Democrats have consistently asked for a hearing on rail safety in the wake of the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine [Ohio].”

On Feb. 3 of last year, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine.

Donald Payne


“What we are seeing today in the freight rail industry is efforts to take shortcuts on labor, safety and service, all in pursuit of profits,” said Payne, ranking member on the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. “While we see bigger profits for the railroads, meaning more dividends for shareholders, we see continued derailments and incidents every day.”

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A legislative priority for Democrats is the Reducing Accidents in Locomotives, or RAIL, Act, sponsored by Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Ohio). During the policy roundtable, Sykes pointed to 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.

Emilia Sykes


“This roundtable is an important forum to accomplish that goal,” Sykes continued. “My bipartisan legislation, the RAIL Act, would implement effective measures to keep our communities safe and ensure that no American living close to our 140,000 miles of railroad track has to worry about the threat of a toxic derailment in their backyard.” House Republicans governing in the majority have not scheduled a vote on the bill.

Clarence Anthony, the National League of Cities’ CEO and executive director, participated in the roundtable. “NLC is here to work with you on this issue because it’s important to every city, town and village in America,” Anthony said.

On the other side of the Capitol, a Senate committee approved the bipartisan Railway Safety Act, legislation similar to the House bill. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) led the bill’s approval. “With over 80 million Americans living within 1 mile of a Class I [freight] railroad track, Congress must pass the Railway Safety Act to strengthen oversight over the railroads and get safety back on track,” she said.


Relatedly, stakeholders have announced safety improvements across their operations. “In their commitment to a comprehensive safety culture, railroads have diligently undertaken proactive measures to enhance rail safety following the incident in East Palestine, Ohio, last year,” according to the Association of American Railroads. “These voluntary initiatives, shaped by insights gained from the incident, were executed without external regulatory or congressional mandates. The objective is to minimize the likelihood of similar incidents in the future while continuing to make the entire network safer.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to announce in June further details about the East Palestine derailment. “The NTSB is returning to East Palestine for our final board meeting for the same reasons we went last summer: Because the communities most affected by this tragedy deserve to hear our findings in-person and in real time,” NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said last month.

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