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Pennsylvania, Ohio lawmakers introduce new railroad safety legislation

Senators in Pennsylvania and Ohio have introduced additional legislation to address rail safety concerns, protect workers and help prevent railway harm across the US

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Editor's note: The above video is from March 1.

Senators in Pennsylvania and Ohio have introduced additional legislation to address rail safety concerns, protect workers and help prevent railway harm to communities in the U.S.

The new Railway Accountability Act (RAA) introduced by John Fetterman (D-PA), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) would build on the Railroad Safety Act of 2023 proposed earlier in March.

“Too many communities in Pennsylvania and across the Nation have suffered from catastrophic train derailments,” said Sen. Casey. “The Railway Accountability Act would implement additional commonsense safety measures to help prevent these disasters in the future. Along with the Railway Safety Act, this bill will make freight rail safer and protect communities from preventable tragedies.”

The lawmakers say the RAA would:

  • Direct the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to examine the causes of and potential mitigation strategies for wheel-related derailments and mechanical defects, and publish potential regulations that would improve avoidance of these defects.
  • Ensure that employees can safely inspect trains by prohibiting trains from being moved during brake inspections.
  • Require that the mechanic that actually inspects a locomotive or rail car attests to its safety.
  • Direct the FRA to review regulations relating to the operation of trains in switchyards, and direct railroads to update their plans submitted under the FRA’s existing Risk Reduction Program (RRP) to incorporate considerations regarding switchyard practices.
  • Require the FRA to make Class I railroad safety waivers public in one online location.
  • Require railroads to ensure that communication checks between the front and end of a train do not fail, and that emergency brake signals reach the end of a train.
  • Ensure Class I railroad participation in the confidential Close Call Reporting System by requiring all railroads that have paid the maximum civil penalty for a safety violation to join.
  • Ensure that railroads provide warning equipment (such as white disks, red flags, or whistles) to railroad watchmen and lookouts.

“It is an honor and a privilege to introduce my first piece of legislation, the Railway Accountability Act, following the derailment affecting East Palestine, Ohio, and Darlington Township, Pennsylvania. This bill will implement commonsense safety reforms, hold the big railway companies accountable, protect the workers who make these trains run, and help prevent future catastrophes that endanger communities near railway infrastructure. Working Pennsylvanians have more than enough to think about already — they should never have been put in this horrible situation,”said Sen. Fetterman. “Communities like Darlington Township and East Palestine are too often forgotten and overlooked by leaders in Washington and executives at big companies like Norfolk Southern who only care about making their millions. That’s why I’m proud to be working with my colleagues to stand up for these communities and make clear that we’re doing everything we can to prevent a disaster like this from happening again.”

The lawmakers say the legislation is also supported by labor unions including the Transport Workers of America, the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Division.

Read the proposed legislation in full here.

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