WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators John Fetterman (D-PA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Railway Accountability Act to address additional long-standing rail safety concerns, protect workers, and help prevent future harm to rail-side communities across the country.
The Railway Accountability Act would build on the proposals in the bipartisan Railway Safety Act, introduced earlier this month by Senators Brown and J.D. Vance (R-OH), and co-sponsored by Senators Fetterman and Casey.
The Railway Accountability Act would take multiple steps towards guaranteeing rail safety by directing the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to study wheel-related failures and derailments; enhancing switchyard safety practices; enacting commonsense brake safety measures; requiring large freight railroad companies to join a confidential “close call” reporting system administered by the FRA & NASA; and ensuring that railways provide sufficient reporting and safety equipment to its workers, among other improvements.
“It is an honor and a privilege to introduce my first piece of legislation, the Railway Accountability Act, following the derailment affecting East Palestine, Ohio, and Darlington Township, Pennsylvania. This bill will implement commonsense safety reforms, hold the big railway companies accountable, protect the workers who make these trains run, and help prevent future catastrophes that endanger communities near railway infrastructure. Working Pennsylvanians have more than enough to think about already — they should never have been put in this horrible situation,” said Sen. Fetterman.“Communities like Darlington Township and East Palestine are too often forgotten and overlooked by leaders in Washington and executives at big companies like Norfolk Southern who only care about making their millions. That’s why I’m proud to be working with my colleagues to stand up for these communities and make clear that we’re doing everything we can to prevent a disaster like this from happening again.”
“Too many communities in Pennsylvania and across the Nation have suffered from catastrophic train derailments. The Railway Accountability Act would implement additional commonsense safety measures to help prevent these disasters in the future,” said Sen. Casey. “Along with the Railway Safety Act, this bill will make freight rail safer and protect communities from preventable tragedies.”
“Rail lobbyists have fought for years to protect their profits at the expense of communities like East Palestine and Steubenville and Sandusky. These commonsense 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,” said Sen. Brown.
The legislation is also supported by labor unions including the Transport Workers of America (TWU), the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers (NCFO), and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Division (SMART-MD).
Senators Fetterman, Casey, and Brown have worked tirelessly to support Pennsylvanians and Ohioans affected by this disaster in the short-term, namely advocating for resources and holding Norfolk Southern accountable for the harm the derailment has inflicted, in addition to working to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future.
The senators wrote to Norfolk Southern Corporation President and CEO Alan Shaw about the company’s legal and moral obligation to the residents of East Palestine and Darlington Township, demanding answers on how the company plans to be an active member of response and clean-up operations. They pressed EPA on its plan to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for releasing hazardous materials into the air and water. They wrote to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to share rail safety concerns they have heard from constituents, rail experts, and railroad workers as NTSB conducts its investigation into the derailment. And finally, Sens. Fetterman and Casey worked with Congressman Chris Deluzio to urge Norfolk Southern to provide assistance to Pennsylvanians in Darlington Township after repeated reports that Pennsylvania residents were being turned away at the Family Assistance Center in East Palestine.
The Pennsylvania senators joined with Sens. Brown and Vance last month to introduce the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023, which would take much needed steps to improve rail safety protocols and prevent future train disasters. The bill will take key steps to improve freight rail practices, such as enhancing safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors, creating a permanent requirement for railroads to operate with at least two-person crews, increasing fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers, and more.
In addition, Senators Fetterman, Casey, and Brown recently introduced the Assistance for Local Heroes During Train Crises Act to support first responders on the front lines of hazardous train derailments.
The text of the Railway Accountability Act is available here.
A one-page summary of the Railway Accountability Act is available here.
THE RAILWAY ACCOUNTABILITY ACT WOULD:
- Direct the Federal Railroad Administration to examine the causes of and potential mitigation strategies for wheel-related derailments and mechanical defects, and publish potential regulations that would improve avoidance of these defects.
- Ensure that employees can safely inspect trains by prohibiting trains from being moved during brake inspections.
- Require that the mechanic that actually inspects a locomotive or rail car attests to its safety.
- Direct the FRA to review regulations relating to the operation of trains in switchyards, and direct railroads to update their plans submitted under the FRA’s existing Risk Reduction Program (RRP) to incorporate considerations regarding switchyard practices.
- Require the FRA to make Class I railroad safety waivers public in one online location.
- Require railroads to ensure that communication checks between the front and end of a train do not fail, and that emergency brake signals reach the end of a train.
- Ensure Class I railroad participation in the confidential Close Call Reporting System by requiring all railroads that have paid the maximum civil penalty for a safety violation to join.
- Ensure that railroads provide warning equipment (such as white disks, red flags, or whistles) to railroad watchmen and lookouts.