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PA: New Legislation To Prevent Future Train Derailments

by Danielle Smith, Keystone State News Connection

PA: New Legislation To Prevent Future Train Derailments

Hoping to avoid future train disasters like Norfolk Southern’s derailment in East Palestine, a bipartisan group of Pennsylvania lawmakers has introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023.

They say it would create more safety requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials – including a “permanent requirement for railroads to operate with at least two-person crews,” and increase the frequency of rail car inspections.

The new legislation is a step in the right direction, says Nick Messenger – senior research fellow at the Ohio River Valley Institute – but enforcement is key because some railroad regulations from past decades have still not been fully implemented.

“The biggest thing that I think it does is it applies to a class of trains that are not currently classified as hazardous,” said Messenger. “One of the big issues in East Palestine was that this train even though it had all of these chemical cars on it, because they were not linked together in a row, they were not actually classified as hazardous.”

The new legislation would require state emergency personnel to be notified of what chemicals are onboard train cars coming through their communities.

Messenger pointed out that the derailment is part of a bigger story about the petrochemical industry in the region and residents’ rights to clean air and water.

“There are a lot of major concerns around this accident, around what are called volatile organic compounds – VOCs,” said Messenger. “And those were kind of emitted into the air and into the water from the derailment. But they’re also being emitted by lots of other industrial activity in the region, in addition to the Shell cracker plant that just went online in Beaver County, which is only about 35 miles from the derailment site.”

Initially Norfolk Southern offered the entire town a total of $25,000 to help with clean-up. Since then, lawsuits against the rail company are piling up.

Last week Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw apologized during a U.S. Senate hearing and pledged the company will pay whatever the cost for a full clean-up of the disaster.