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Biden urges Congress to pass Rail Safety Act

(Source: Progressive Railroading 03/06/2023)

President Joe Biden is throwing his support behind the proposed bipartisan Rail Safety Act legislation introduced last week in the U.S. Senate.

The bill would provide the federal government with measures that would hold railroads accountable to prevent train derailments like the one that occurred Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, Biden said in a prepared statement.

“This legislation strengthens safety requirements for all trains carrying hazardous materials, and phases in newer, safer tank cars over the next two years, not over the next decade,” the president said.

In addition, the bill would increase safety by requiring hotbox detectors every 10 miles; increase hazmat fees for railroads to pay for grants to train state and local firefighters and others responding to hazmat incidents; and increase fines for safety violations from the current cap of $225,000 to the greater of $1 million or 1% of a railroad’s operating income.

“This bill will make important progress — and we need to do even more, like require state-of-the-art braking systems, provide more funding for federal safety inspections, invest in worker safety, fortify state emergency management and response and hold companies like Norfolk Southern [Railway] accountable not just for the immediate damage, but also the long-term health and economic damage to communities like East Palestine,” Biden said.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) announced its support for the Rail Safety Act, but the union’s president said the bill’s two-person crew requirement doesn’t go far enough.

The bill would set limits on train length for the first time; place restrictions on the weight of trains; and require two-person crews consisting of at least one qualified and certified conductor and one qualified and certified locomotive engineer.

“As currently written, the bill would only address operations on long-distance freight trains. The BLET will seek changes to the wording of the two-person crew language to tighten the loopholes,” said BLET President Eddie Hall in a press release.

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