WASHINGTON (AP) — The CEO of Norfolk Southern is proposing to support parts of a bipartisan Senate bill to tighten rail safety regulations following a flammable train derailment last month on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
CEO Alan Shaw is under pressure from senators and federal safety regulators to step up his commitment to safety rules when he appears before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Under aggressive questioning by senators earlier this month in a separate hearing, he pledged to voluntarily increase security and sincerely apologized for the derailment that turned life upside down in East Palestine, Ohio. But Shaw did not approve the proposed safety rules under the Railroad Safety Act of 2023.
This time, Shaw says in a scripted comment posted Tuesday that Norfolk Southern will “support legislative efforts to improve freight rail safety.” Designation of trains carrying flammable gases as especially dangerous.
The show supports railroad law provisions to fund training for emergency crews, revise railroad track inspection rules every three years, and accelerate the phase-out of older tank cars.
Shaw also says there are “areas where we think Congress could go further with safety legislation,” including stricter standards for tank car design and technology research that could detect railcar problems.
No one was immediately hurt in the February 3 crash in East Palestine, Ohio, but state and local officials decided to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from five tank cars, resulting in the evacuation of half of the approximately 5,000 residents. Scenes of smoke billowing over the village, along with reports from residents that they were still suffering from illness, brought high-level attention to rail safety and how hazardous materials are transported.
The Senate Commerce Committee will also hear from National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy. The NTSB, as well as the Federal Railways Administration, are investigating the East Palestine train derailment and Norfolk Southern security measures.
In prepared comments, Homendy says “railway remains one of the safest modes of transport” but also points to several safety flaws in current regulations, including local emergency services not being regularly told what hazardous materials are being transported. on trains unless they qualify as a fire train.
The train that derailed in East Palestine was not classified as particularly dangerous because it did not meet the threshold for the number of wagons carrying a flammable liquid such as gasoline, ethanol or acetone.
Homendy will push for a broader definition of highly hazardous flammable trains, stating that it “should include a wide range of hazardous materials” and “that even a single carriage of any hazardous material warrants a notification to emergency services.”
The Senators will also hear from East Palestine and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a railroad representative, and two Railroad Safety Act-promoting Ohio Senators, Republican J.D. Vance and Democrat Sherrod Brown.
Both senators were openly critical of Norfolk Southern. Vance, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, sent out a memo this week to fellow Republicans on the panel to push them to focus the hearing on new safety rules, including questioning Shaw about whether he supports increasing fines. for security breaches. .
In a memo, Vance suggests asking Shaw if penalties should be tightened “when a railroad company poisons an entire community.”
In the House of Representatives, Republican Bill Johnson, whose district includes East Palestine, and Emilia Strong Sykes, Democrat of Ohio, introduced a separate version of the railroad safety bill.
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