WASHINGTON — Three Democratic Senators from Pennsylvania and Ohio have called for new rail safety legislation they say is intended to build on provisions of the Rail Safety Act introduced earlier in March by addressing wheel-related failures and enacting new inspection rules, among other provisions.
The Railway Accountability Act was introduced Thursday by U.S. Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. It is the latest regulatory effort spawned by the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, but cites other, earlier significant derailments in explaining the goals of some of its provisions.
“This bill will implement commonsense safety reforms, hold the big railway companies accountable, protect the workers who make these trains run, and help prevent future catastrophes that endanger communities near railway infrastructure,” Fetterman said in a press release which also included comments by Casey and Brown.
— A requirement for the Federal Railroad Administration to study broken wheel rim derailments and wheel impact load thresholds and identify new mitigation threshold. The bill summary cites the May 6, 2015, derailment and fire involving a BNSF crude oil train in Heimdal, N.D., as an example of the type of derailment this requirement seeks to address.
— A requirement that locomotives and railcars are stationary during inspections, and that a mechanic who conducts an inspection actually attests to the safety of the locomotive or car.
— A requirement addressing an existing National Transportation Safety Board recommendation by ensuring that communications between the front and back of a train do not fail, and that emergency brake signals reach the end of the train. The bill summary says this would prevent events such as the fatal October 2018 Union Pacific runaway and collision on Sherman Hill. That accident was attributed to a brake system failure [see “NTSB: Brake and end-of-train device problems led to deadly Sherman Hill runaway,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 25, 2021].
— A mandate that railroads fined the maximum penalty for safety violations must join participate in the FRA’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System.
— A requirement that railroads provide warning equipment, such as red flags or whistles for maintenance watchmen or lookouts, as most railroads do. The bill summary sites a 2017 BNSF accident in which two workers were killed in Edgemont, S.D., as an example of the type of incident this provision could prevent.
Brown was one of the initial sponsors of the Rail Safety Act, a bipartisan bill introduced March 1, which includes provisions limiting train length and tonnage and mandating two-person crews, among other features [see “Senators propose tighter regulations …,” News Wire, March 1, 2023].