On August 3rd, Northeast Ohio will notch 6 months since a train laden with toxic chemicals derailed in the small town of East Palestine.
The derailment pulled national attention to not only the practices of the railroad industry, but also the country’s aging rail infrastructure and regulatory systems. To that end, the US Department of Transportation says it has worked to improve rail safety in the months since the derailment.
In a release, the DOT says it has been working with its lower agencies, including the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration to “[ramp] up their ongoing work toward a safer freight rail network while supporting the independent NTSB’s investigation and the community’s recovery.”
That work, the DOT says, includes an updated regulatory proposal which would require two-person train crews, a regulation which the Association of American Railroads claims, at least at the state level, breaks federal law.
Other work they’ve done, according to the DOT, includes 6,000 focused inspections on rail lines in the lower 48 states which transport hazardous materials, collect and analyze data from all class 1 railroads on the lengths of their trains, securing sick and paid leave for rail workers, and an advance notice regulation which would let local emergency response officials know when hazardous materials are moving through their jurisdictions, and what those materials are in the case of any incidents.
The DOT has also announced funds to fix 400 so called “at-grade crossings”, where train tracks intersect roads, which have been the site of over 10,000 injuries and deaths since 2010 according to FRA statistics. Last year alone, according to the DOT, there were 2,000 collisions at at-grade crossings.
Also in the works is the distribution of more than $1.4 billion in funds by the Biden administration, which is also still currently evaluating an emergency declaration request made by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on July 3rd. The White House will announce recipients of those funds this fall.
The funds were appropriated by the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program, and comes on top of $370 million in grants which were awarded to 46 projects in 2022.
Despite the action by the DOT, many in East Palestine continue to feel that federal efforts to aid the community are falling short.
Just last week, East Palestine residents were among 25,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban on Vinyl Chloride, one of the toxic chemicals spilled in the derailment.
The Biden administration also continues to receive criticism from East Palestine residents who are calling on the White House to approve Governor DeWine’s emergency declaration, which it’s been mulling over for nearly a month.
When DeWine’s request was submitted, the Biden Administration said they would conduct an “expeditious” review.