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Railway Safety Act could make its way to the full Senate after the August recess

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Less than a month after the East Palestine train derailment and fire, Ohio’s two U.S. Senators teamed up to introduce the Railway Safety Act. It is a bi-partisan push to address some of the rail safety concerns that were raised in the wake of the disaster.

It included basic things like creating new standards that require rail carriers to provide advance notification for high-hazard flammable trains; it also calls for tougher tank car standards, increased investment in hotbox detectors and an investment in new tank car designs for those that carry hazardous materials.

Appearing before the Ohio State Senate in April, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw promised to push for the bill’s passage in Congress.

“I’m going to express a full-throated endorsement for many of the safety provisions that are in the Vance-Brown bill and in the Johnson-Sykes bill,” Shaw said in Columbus.

“Many” is the operative word in Shaw’s statement. He remained opposed to provisions like the one requiring at least a two-person crew on trains. There have been compromises along the way, and as of June 12, Senator Sherrod Brown told News 5 it appeared ready for a full vote of the Senate.

“We plan to have that bill on the floor next week,” Brown said at the time. But that deadline, along with two more months, have passed and still no vote. Brown last month blamed the rail industry as a whole, not just Norfolk Southern, for getting in the ear of a handful of U.S. Senators.

“I mean, this just shows, the fact that this hasn’t passed by now, shows the immense power of the railroad lobby,” Brown said.

Norfolk Southern, for it’s part, tells News 5 its lobbying efforts remain on a par with what they’ve spent over the past decade and that sometimes lobbying can be for the passing of legislation.

“Norfolk Southern remains committed to the ultimate goal of enacting bipartisan legislation that advances rail safety and strengthens the ability of rail carriers to maintain their critical role in the nation’s economy,” the company said in a statement.

“These pieces of legislation contain important advancements in accident prevention, accident mitigation, and accident response that will make our railroads, our employees, and communities safer. We look forward to continuing our engagement with Members of Congress on the issues, achieving a meaningful and effective new law, and leading on safety measures within the industry.”

Senator JD Vance told News 5 in June there have been changes to the act since it was introduced, but that’s just part of the process needed to get it not only through the Senate but also, eventually, the House.

“I’d much rather for the people of East Palestine to get a good law than a perfect law that fails,” Vance said. “I want to get the good law through the U.S. Senate, and I think we’re in a position to do that.”

Much like talks of gun reform are strongest after a mass shooting, Brown told News 5 last month, the longer the rail safety debate drags on, the more of an uphill climb it becomes.

“My concern is exactly that,” Brown said.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told News 5 that bringing the Railway Safety Act to the full Senate for a vote remains high on the Senator’s list when the full Senate returns from its August break. Schumer told reporters just before leaving Washington: “Rail safety is a priority for me. Senator Brown is relentlessly leading that charge, working doggedly to get it done and make rail across the country safer.”

Source: News 5 Cleveland



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