INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, March 3 — A bipartisan bill introduced on March 1 by three Republican and three Democratic senators is designed to toughen safety standards on America’s railroads. “Right now our nation’s railroads largely self-regulate,” said Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen National President Eddie Hall. “We welcome greater federal oversight and a crackdown on railroads that seem all too willing to trade safety for higher profits.”
The Rail Safety Act of 2023 (PDF) would set limits on train length for the first time. Some freight trains now exceed three miles in length. The train that derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio was nearly two miles long. The bill also seeks to place restrictions on the weight of trains. It would set standards for railcar maintenance, track maintenance, wayside defect detectors and raise standards for tank cars carrying hazardous materials, among other changes.
While the proposed legislation states that: No freight train may be operated without a 2-person crew consisting of at least 1 appropriately qualified and certified conductor and 1 appropriately qualified and certified locomotive engineer, the exceptions are significant.
“If the language is not precise, the Class I railroads will avoid the scope of the law without violating the law, yet again putting the safety of our members and American communities into harm’s way,” Hall said. “You can run a freight train through the loopholes.” As currently written, the bill would only address operations on long distance freight trains. The BLET will seek changes to the wording of the two-person crew language to tighten the loopholes.
“Senators Sherrod Brown with J.D. Vance of Ohio and Bob Casey and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, along with Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley deserve credit for getting this reform legislation moving. We also appreciate Senator Schumer’s support for rail safety and this bill in-particular,” said Hall. “The BLET will do whatever we can to get other elected leaders onboard.”