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Senate to schedule vote on Railway Safety Act: media report

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to schedule a vote on the stalled Railway Safety Act, the political website The Hill reports, but Republican leader Mitch McConnell opposes the legislation and may block it or delay it.

The bill introduced in reaction to the East Palestine derailment includes provisions requiring two-person crews, wayside detectors, training for first responders, and increased rules for hazardous materials. But it has grown since its introduction from 18 pages to 77, with changes included removal of limits on train length and weight, and a later date for elimination older tank cars carrying flammable materials [see “Railway Safety Act advances out of committee,” Trains News Wire, May 10, 2023].

The rail industry remains lukewarm at best to the bill. Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said Wednesday at the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers Winter Meeting that “many of the provisions” in current legislation “make perfect sense and so we’re an advocate for those positions.” Association of American Railroads CEO Ian Jefferies, however, said the same day that current bill has “a whole host of completely unrelated items that have managed to find their way in there — things like doubling the interval of manual locomotive inspections, a crew-size mandate … And so what have should have been a targeted, sensible opportunity to put together some legislation that all parties can support, move forward, and feel like we’ve done some good things has unfortunately ground to a halt.”

The report by The Hill, however, casts the bill’s future as being largely about politics, rather than its merits or lack thereof. It is sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), considered vulnerable for reelection; its passage would likely help his prospects with Ohio voters — so Schumer wants to push it through. McConnell wants to stop it for exactly the same reason, given Republicans’ desire to regain control of the Senate in November.

While Democrats currently have a 51-seat majority, under Senate rules they will need to be joined by nine Republicans to pass the legislation. The legislation has six Republican co-sponsors, including Ohio Republican Sen. JD Vance.