With the year anniversary of the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment looming, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made another push in the Pittsburgh area Friday for Congress to pass the proposed Railway Safety Act.
A Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh derailed on Feb. 3, 2023. That led to a fire and controlled burn of chemicals that residents fear will have long-term effects on their health, and they are suspicious that the railroad is playing a major role in the continuing cleanup.
“It’s no secret the rail industry has real power on Capitol Hill,” Buttigieg said in a private interview with the Pittsburgh Union Progress during his visit to tout funding for improvements along the Parkway East and Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway. “There is a real tug of war in Congress over this bill. I’m calling on Congress to pass that bill before the anniversary.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Aspinwall, and others proposed a bill in March that would require additional inspections of railroad tracks in areas where trains carry hazardous material and of rail cars that carry those materials. Deluzio’s district includes part of Beaver County just across the border from East Palestine.
The bill, which also would increase penalties for railroads that violate the proposed standards, is similar to a version introduced in the Senate by Pennsylvania Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, among others. Both bills have bipartisan sponsorship, but neither has come up for a vote.
Buttigieg said the administration has taken some administrative steps to improve oversight of the railroad industry, but the quickest and most effective way would be for Congress to change regulations. Just last week, the Federal Railway Administration issued new rules requiring trains to always have at least two staff members on board and called for special breathing equipment to be available for those employees to use during emergencies.
“Congress can do this quicker and cleaner,” he said. “I do not understand why there was such a big push [for regulatory changes] right after the accident, but now nothing is happening.”