site of a derailed freight train in East Palestine, Ohio
This video screenshot released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) shows the site of a derailed freight train in East Palestine, Ohio.
(Photo: NTSB/Handout via Xinhua)

A Year After Ohio Disaster, Renewed Calls for Rail Safety Legislation

"Folks like us, who live along or near the tracks, refuse to be treated as collateral damage in the way of big railroads' profits," said Congressman Chris Deluzio.

On the eve of the first anniversary of a toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, residents, lawmakers, and members of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration are renewing calls for Congress to swiftly pass federal legislation boosting rail safety.

In a Friday letter, U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) urged House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to "bring the Railway Saftey Act to the floor for a vote before Congress adjourns for the August recess," highlighting that the bill is backed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers as well as the Biden administration and former President Donald Trump, the GOP presidential frontrunner.

Deluzio, who introduced the House version of the bill with Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.), noted that the Norfolk Southern train derailed and released hazardous materials "less than a mile from the Pennsylvania state line and the homes and farms of my constituents."

"Without dwelling on the resulting health problems, environmental scare, and general lack of trust that I still regularly hear from my constituents, I instead want to empathize that we cannot accept congressional inaction, and how the February 3, 2023 derailment could have been much worse," the congressman wrote. "Folks like us, who live along or near the tracks, refuse to be treated as collateral damage in the way of big railroads' profits."

"Over the last two centuries, railroad companies have wielded their power and influence to protect their profits and avoid commonsense safety measures, allowing them to cut corners and pad the pockets of their corporate shareholders at the expense of the American people," he explained. "After the East Palestine derailment, the big railroad lobby sprang into action once again and lobbied members of Congress—directing them to do nothing to make rail safer and risk cutting into their profits."

The Railway Saftey Act—led in the Senate by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and JD Vance (R-Ohio)—contains provisions to enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, reduce the risk of wheel bearing failures, require well-trained two-person crews, force carriers to face higher fines for wrongdoing, support communities impacted by disasters, and invest in safety improvements.

Brown and Vance have also issued fresh calls for action this week.

"Over the last year, I've visited East Palestine repeatedly, and our staff is there even more often," Brown said Tuesday. "Each time, we ask residents what we can do. They want the support and the compensation they are owed, but they do not want this derailment to define them. I don't want that either, and I don't want any other community in Ohio or around the country to have to deal with a disaster like this ever again."

"As I've told the people of East Palestine—and as I keeptelling them: I'm here for the long haul," he added. "I will always fight for the people of East Palestine. I will always fight to hold Norfolk Southern accountable. And I will always fight to make our railways safer."

As Nexstar's Reshad Hudson reported Tuesday:

Vance says he's working with Brown to get the needed support for the bill.

"It's not going to eliminate every train crash, but it hopefully can make these things much less common because they happen way too often,” Vance said.

According toRoll Call, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters this week that his department has "done our part" and "we are pressing industry to do their part, Congress needs to act as well."

"Any congressional leader of any party who is serious about railroad safety should support funding for railroad safety inspections... and should support the Railway Safety Act," he said.

While the outlet noted that delays in the House are partly tied to a forthcoming national Transportation Safety Board investigation report, the bill's sponsors and Buttigieg are largely blaming industry opposition, with the secretary saying that "in the past, there have been times when Congress stood up against the railroad lobby... they should do that now."

The White House announced this week that Biden plans to visit East Palestine sometime in February "to meet with residents impacted by the Norfolk Southern train derailment and assess the progress that his administration has helped deliver in coordination with state and local leaders to protect the community and hold Norfolk Southern accountable."

The White House also reiterated the administration's support for the Railway Safety Act—a bill that is backed by workers but also contains loopholes that "you can run a freight train through," as Eddie Hall, national president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, warned last year.

Other measures before Congress include the Railway Accountability Act—led by Brown along with Sens. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who are also fighting to pass the Railway Safety Act.

Demands for congressional action on rail safety and more have also continued to pour out of East Palestine and surrounding communities—particularly from people who remain displaced and are suffering a wide range of symptoms.

"What I've been experiencing is some of the fear that I've never known in almost all of my 70 years," Stella Gamble, a grandmother of nine who lives less than a mile from the derailment, said in a testimony shared by The Real News Network. "I am so afraid for my grandchildren and for the other children in this town. My granddaughters have rashes on their skin. They've been having female issues. They get massive headaches."

"I think that the whole thing behind everything that's happened here is the same as it is everywhere else in this country. It's all about the money," Gamble added. "Everything about it is the money, and they will gladly sacrifice a few thousand Appalachians to keep their trains going through here... We're just a sacrifice. That's how I feel. And I feel like my grandkids are being sacrificed, too."

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