Lawmakers seek to prevent hazardous materials train wrecks

After a freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S. Representatives Chris Deluzio and Ro Khanna introduced the Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accident Instances Locally (DERAIL) Act to broaden the definition by which trains get classified as a “high-hazard flammable train” (HHFT). 

The bill will ensure that trains carrying hazardous materials are properly classified and rail carriers are required to take proper safety precautions—such as slower speeds, newer rail cars, better braking equipment, and required reporting—when carrying these materials across the country.

The bill also improves information sharing by requiring rail carriers to report to the National Response Center, state officials, and local officials within 24 hours after a train carrying toxic chemicals derails.

“We commend Congressman Deluzio and Congressman Khanna for proactively taking positive action to improve rail safety for Pennsylvania and America,” said Greg Hynes, National Legislative Director of SMART Transportation Division, the union representing rail workers who staffed the Norfolk Southern train that derailed. “Increasing safety measures will better protect both workers and the communities our trains run through every day.”

“Following this derailment, many of (my constituents) are worried about their health and livelihoods and whether their air, water, and soil will be safe after this disaster,” said Deluzio. “They want answers, accountability, and assurance that something like this will never happen again.”

“For too long, railroads have prioritized profit ahead of public safety and their workers, and it is time to regulate the railroads,” said Deluzio. “This legislation is an important step forward to finally strengthen our rail regulations and improve rail safety in communities like western Pennsylvania and across America.”

“The people in East Palestine and western Pennsylvania are the working-class folks who feel invisible and abandoned by our nation,” said Khanna.

“I’m proud to introduce this legislation to expand our safety regulations and help prevent against this type of disaster in the future,” said Khanna. “This is a moment where we need political leaders from all parties and from across the country to speak out loudly for better safety regulations and to acknowledge what so many Americans are going through.”

This debate isn’t new. For years, safety advocates have called for the definition of HHFT to be broadened to include Hazard 2 gasses.

Those efforts have been thwarted by rail industry lobbyists fought to limit the types of chemical compounds that would be covered by the regulation.

The congressmen credited reporting by The Lever News, which has shown how rail regulations have been weakened and rolled back over the past years.

Those stories helped raise awareness about the corrupt corporate influence over government during the immediate aftermath of the East Palestine derailment.

The derailment included eleven tank cars carrying hazardous materials that ultimately ignited, including five with vinyl chloride, a Class 2 flammable gas, and two tank cars with benzene residue, a Class 3 flammable liquid.

Yet, the derailed train wasn’t classified as a HHFT, and thus, was not subject to stricter safety regulations.

The DERAIL Act expands the definition of which trains are classified as a “high-hazard flammable train” in two key ways. First, it adds Class 2 flammable gasses to the definition and gives the Secretary of Transportation the authority to add other materials to the definition as necessary for safety.

Second, DOT currently defines HHFT as a train carrying hazardous materials in at least 20 consecutive cars or 35 cars total, this bill lowers the threshold to one railcar.

“The disastrous East Palestine derailment showed that federal safety laws have loopholes large enough to drive a train through,” said environmentalist Lisa McCormick, who called on New Jersey lawmakers to explain why freight companies are not required to report the explosive materials they are carrying.

“The DERAIL Act will take commonsense and important steps to improve reporting and the public’s right to know about volatile and hazardous materials rumbling through U.S. communities every day,” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur. “This will help protect public health, safeguard local communities, and assist first responders.”

Click here for the bill text. 

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