Second Ohio Derailment Raises Ire in Congress on Rail Safety

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(Bloomberg) -- A second freight train derailment in Ohio within a month is giving new impetus for rail safety legislation in Congress, as Democrats and Republicans prepare to grill Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw when he testifies to a Senate committee Thursday.

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“The big railroads have weakened safety rules or resisted safety rules for years,” Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “But you’d think a disaster that happened in East Palestine would have gotten their attention.”

Saturday’s train derailment happened outside Springfield, Ohio — about 180 miles (400 kilometers) west of East Palestine, where a derailment last month spilled toxic chemicals into the rural community along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

Initial reports indicate that there were no hazardous materials spilled in the Springfield incident, and officials quickly lifted a shelter-in-place order. But Brown said he wants to know if there were any residual contaminants left in the 20 mostly-empty train cars that went off track.

“The railroad’s got a lot of questions they’ve got to answer and they really haven’t done it very well yet,” he said.

Brown is the lead sponsor of a rail-safety bill that would require more disclosure of hazardous materials traversing states, inspections of wheel bearings and mandate minimum crew sizes. And it would increase penalties for violations.

Brown’s bill has co-sponsors from across the political spectrum, including Republicans JD Vance of Ohio, Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri as well as Democrats Bob Casey and John Fetterman of neighboring Pennsylvania.

Ohio Republican Representative Mike Turner, who represents the area around Saturday’s derailment, added his own frustration with the rail industry, calling the spate of Ohio derailments — now four in the last five months — “outrageous.”

“What we’ve seen, you know, recently with the risk to communities is unacceptable,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “And the fact that we’re having derailment after derailment shows really the lack of investment, the disinvestment, in our infrastructure, and that needs to change.”

Still, some ideological rifts were apparent. Brown blamed the derailments in part on stock buybacks, CEO pay and workforce reductions — issues unlikely to get agreement from Republicans.

Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, said opposition to pipelines had put more stress on the rail system. “Pipelines would help alleviate a lot of this problem with the oil that we need in our country,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

And Vance told Fox News on Friday that attempts to blame President Donald Trump’s administration — which killed a train braking rule designed to prevent incidents like the one in East Palestine — “complete partisan hackery.”

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