In the weeks since a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, there’s been quite a lot of discussion about how disasters like this can be prevented in the future.
And as federal, state, and local officials conduct investigations, questions remain about how rail companies can change to improve safety.
The Department of Transportation (DOT), helmed by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, recently penned a letter to Alan Shaw, the CEO of Norfolk Southern, the rail company operating the derailed train in East Palestine.
In the letter, Buttigieg harshly criticized Norfolk Southern, and urged the company to take further action to improve.
“Rather than support these efforts to improve rail safety, Norfolk Southern and other rail companies spent millions of dollars in the courts and lobbying members of Congress to oppose common-sense safety regulations,” Buttigieg wrote.
Two days after Buttigieg penned his letter, the DOT released a three-pronged plan to make the industry safer.
BREAKING: Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation (@USDOT) announced a three-part plan to improve rail safety after a catastrophic train derailment in Ohio earlier this month caused mandatory evacuations and ongoing soil, groundwater, and air contamination. pic.twitter.com/byaxmBTxp3— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) February 21, 2023
What are the proposed changes?
The DOT’s plan includes actions for the rail industry, the DOT, and Congress.
The DOT called on rail companies to provide paid sick leave to their workforce, deploy new safety inspection technologies, and also to protect workers from retaliation when they report safety violations.
The DOT promised to advance the Train Crew Staffing Rule, which would ensure that at least two crew workers were involved in all railway operations. The DOT also announced that it would initiate a new safety program for trains carrying hazardous materials.
Additionally, the department urged Congress to increase the fines it charges rail companies after hazardous materials accidents. Buttigieg also requested that Congress advocate for the increased use of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, as well as other new safety measures, for all tank cars carrying hazardous materials.
“The people of East Palestine cannot be forgotten, nor can their pain be simply considered the cost of doing business,” Buttigeg also wrote.
Time will tell which of these changes are eventually made. But it’s certain that more safety precautions are necessary considering the devastating impacts of this disaster.
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