Federally, legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate by Pennsylvania lawmakers aimed at expanding safety regulations for the rail industry in the wake of the train derailment and subsequent burning of hazardous materials near Beaver County.
Pennsylvania’s federal and state lawmakers took the rail industry and Norfolk Southern to task this week, introducing legislation and issuing a subpoena in an effort to ensure incidents like the fiery train wreck that happened along the Pennsylvania-Ohio state line last month don’t happen again.
On Tuesday, Democratic US Rep. Chris Deluzio (Allegheny) introduced a bill that would add stricter regulations for trains carrying hazardous materials, such as the one that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 3. Even though the Norfolk train carried vinyl chloride and benzene residue, it was not categorized as a high-hazard flammable train (HHFT).
Deluzio’s legislation — the Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accident Instances Locally (DERAIL) Act — would broaden the definition by which trains get classified as a HHFT. The vinyl chloride that was carried in five cars involved in the wreck in Ohio is not, according to current law, a chemical that would qualify because it is considered a Class 2 flammable gas. The proposed law would require Class 2 flammable gasses to be labeled as highly hazardous.
The bill would also require railroads to take safety precautions, including enforcing slower speeds, adding newer rail cars and better braking equipment, and requiring reports when trains are carrying hazardous materials across the country. It would also require the carriers to report the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals to the National Response Center and state and local officials within 24 hours.
“I represent constituents in Beaver County who live, work, and play just miles from the site of the Norfolk Southern derailment,” Deluzio said in a statement. “Following this derailment, many of them are worried about their health and livelihoods and whether their air, water, and soil will be safe after this disaster. They want answers, accountability, and assurance that something like this will never happen again.”
On Wednesday, the state’s Democratic US Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman co-sponsored the Railway Safety Act of 2023, which would enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, increase fines for rail carriers who violate rules, and require railroads to operate with crews of at least two people. Rail carriers would also be required to give advance notice to state emergency response officials about what materials the trains are transporting.
“This should have been done years ago if not decades ago, and it shouldn’t require the federal government stepping in,” Casey said in a statement. “It’s about as broad and comprehensive in rail safety measures I’ve seen in my time in the Senate.”
In Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted to subpoena Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw to testify about the train derailment and subsequent disaster response during a Capitol hearing on March 8. In a cover letter accompanying the legal request, lawmakers also asked for documents, videos, emails, texts, and other communication related to the derailment.
Shaw previously met with local leaders in East Palestine in mid-February, but the company later pulled out of a community hearing to discuss the derailment and clean-up efforts, citing a “growing physical threat” to employees. Lawmakers invited Shaw to a legislative hearing last week in Beaver County, but he did not participate. He’s expected to appear before a US Senate panel next week.