Ohio, Pennsylvania Democrats roll out new railroad safety bill

Brown, Fetterman and Casey's legislation follows the Railway Safety Act filed after the East Palestine derailment

Three Democratic U.S. senators whose states were impacted by the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this year have introduced railway safety legislation to increase regulations on freight rail companies in response to the disaster.

Pennsylvania senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman joined Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in introducing the Railway Accountability Act, which the lawmakers say will build on the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023 filed earlier this month by Brown and Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance and co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania senators.

Pennsylvania Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., left, shakes hands with Sen. Bob Casey before President Biden talks about the progress of the administration's economic agenda at Belmont Water Treatment Center in Philadelphia Feb. 3, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The lawmakers say the new bill would direct the Federal Railroad Administration to look at the causes of wheel-related derailments, determined to be the cause of the East Palestine accident involving a Norfolk Southern train, and examine further potential regulations that might prevent them.

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It would also require increased inspections by railroad employees, require the FRA to make safety waivers from Class I railroads publicly available and require railroads to provide additional warning equipment.

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The legislation is backed by multiple labor unions representing railroad employees, including the Transport Workers of America (TWU), the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers (NCFO), and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Division (SMART-MD).

Norfolk Southern train derailment cleanup in East Palestine, Ohio

A cleanup worker stands on a derailed tank car of a Norfolk Southern freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, Feb. 15, 2023. (AP/Gene J. Puskar / AP Newsroom)

The Railway Accountability Act is the first piece of legislation introduced by Fetterman, who has been hospitalized for several weeks and is expected to make his in-person return to the Senate the week of April 17.

Federal lawmakers have shown an increased interest in boosting railway safety standards following the East Palestine accident, which sent hazardous materials into the community's air and water and led to the evacuation of hundreds of residents, many of whom have reported developing illnesses in the aftermath. 

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But the Democratic senators' legislation could face trouble in the GOP-control House of Representatives unless it gains bipartisan support.

Sens. Sherrod Brown, J.D. Vance

Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, arrive before a Senate Environment and Public Works hearing to examine the Norfolk Southern train derailment and chemical release in East Palestine, Ohio, March 9, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images / Getty Images)

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Vance and Brown's Railway Safety Act includes provisions that would increase fines for safety violations by railroads and designate trains that carry flammable liquids as highly hazardous.