During National Safety Month, Congress is being urged to take swift action to pass the Rail Safety Act of 2023. The measure aims to prevent future disastrous train derailments such as the most recent in East Palestine, Ohio, as well as a derailment back in March in rural Minnesota.
Brittney Kohler, legislative director for transportation infrastructure with the National League of Cities, said the Railway Safety Act is about stopping the continuous cycle of train wrecks, often with hazardous materials on board, that put the health and safety of communities at risk.
“We need to re-evaluate rail safety and ensure that we are keeping up with the modernizations that are needed,” she emphasized. “And what we can do together is pass this bill and continue to work on rail safety.”
The bill would require state emergency personnel to be notified of what chemicals are onboard train cars coming through their communities. It also would mandate the use of defect-detection technology which advocates say could have prevented the East Palestine derailment. The act is headed to the Senate floor after passing in committee in May.
A coalition opposing the bill argues that rail companies would be forced to divert resources away from critical research and development.
Kohler added the National League of Cities has created detailed rail-safety recommendations to encourage Congress to consider steps that would make railways and communities safer, and said those recommendations include ensuring financial fines are used first for the community impacted.
“What we hope to see is that fines will create better behavior that are more appropriate to what’s happening,” she said. “And we’ve seen a lot of incidents just continue because there aren’t any consequences. And we think that these fines have an opportunity to be used for good.”
Kohler said more than 500 mayors and leaders sent letters to Congress for the timely passage of the Railway Safety Act.
Mike Moen writes for Minnesota News Connection.