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Editorial: Rail safety legislation derailed

Jul 11, 2023Jul 11, 2023

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Clarity emerged in February from the thick, acrid, black smoke that billowed over and fell upon East Palestine, Ohio: The nation needed significant rail safety improvements.

A Norfolk Southern train including multiple tank cars full of toxic vinyl chloride derailed after parts of the train experienced mechanical problems with brakes. The town, which is a few hundred yards from the Pennsylvania border, had to be evacuated, and officials decided the best way to remove the toxic material was to burn it.

Politicians who had been friendly to Norfolk Southern and the rail industry, and hostile to greater regulation, ran away from both following the disaster.

Many returned campaign contributions from industry interests.

Now, as reported by Spotlight PA, business has returned to normal. Bills that were introduced following the train wreck themselves have been derailed. The railroad and the industry have resumed lobbying against recommended safety upgrades and collectively have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress who are members of the key relevant committees.

Due to lobbying by the rail and oil industries, Politico has reported, a deadline in one bill to replace many tanker cars with puncture-proof versions has been pushed back by more than three years.

And, as noted recently by Pennsylvania U.S. Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey, Norfolk Southern has not followed through on its vow in March to join the Confidential Close Call Reporting System. That enables railroad employees to report anonymously any safety concerns that they see on the job, without having to worry about retribution.

It is folly to rely on voluntary participation. It should be mandatory. And members of Congress should read the smoke signals from East Palestine rather than checks from corporate donors, and they should vastly upgrade rail safety.

— The Republican & Herald (Pottsville)

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