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US Transportation Secretary Buttigieg wants train bridge inspection records made public


CINCINNATI (WKRC) – United States Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Local 12 in an exclusive interview that train bridge inspection records should be made more available to the public.

The comments came after Local 12’s ongoing investigation into train bridges in the Tri-State, which included five in Butler County that are listed in poor or critical condition.

The only reason Local 12 discovered that these bridges were creating a potential hazard was because the Butler County Engineer’s Office does its own inspections as a courtesy.

Even members of the U.S. Senate can’t get the actual inspection reports from the railroads.

Three of those bridges in Butler County are owned by Norfolk Southern. That’s the railroad that had its train derail in East Palestine back in 2023, spilling millions of gallons of chemicals and causing a massive chemical burn off.

Since they’re not considered public structures, the responsibility for inspecting and maintaining those bridges falls on the railroads who own them. Under a law passed by Congress six years ago, local officials can only ask for those inspection records through the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and the records aren’t public.

Local 12 asked Buttigieg: “Do you think these records should be made public and if so would you push for Congress to do that?”

“I think we would all benefit from more transparency in these records,” Buttigieg said. “Railroads and track owners are responsible for the condition of these bridges. They’re responsible for inspecting them and they’re responsible for documenting the results of those inspections.”

Representatives from Buttigieg’s office reached out to offer an interview with the nation’s top transportation official following Local 12’s investigations into rail safety.

The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and former presidential candidate, said that even his administration has had issues getting those inspection records.

“It has been very difficult to get access to that information,” Buttigieg said. “There’ve even been limitations in how much we, as a department that regulates the railroads, have been able to get in terms of responsiveness on this. So, I do think this is an area we’re continuing to look at it in terms of our authorities, but I think it’s an area where Congress could make a difference too.”

Previously, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, (D)-Ohio, asked the FRA and the railroads for inspection records for bridges across the state, primarily as a result of Local 12’s investigation. But, his office has since had to go back to Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens to use his name to ask for the records under that law.

Buttigieg said that this needs to change.

“Ultimately, these railroad assets, the tracks, the bridges, which are often in private hands, are in the hands of corporations that have a responsibility to take care of their assets and have a responsibility to make sure communities can feel confident that they’re meeting their obligations both in terms of inspections and in terms of repair to keep everybody safe,” said Buttigieg.

Local 12 reached out to both Norfolk Southern and CSX, which owns another of those bridges and is another major operator here in the Tri-State, for a response to Buttigieg’s comments.

Neither got back in time for this story.

Local 12 also reached out to Brown’s office as well as U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, (R)-Ohio, who’s also pushing rail safety to get their response to Buttigieg’s statements. Local 12 is also asking U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, (R)-Ohio, who represents that area, for his thoughts after he expressed concern over the bridge issue. We’re hoping to get that response to you soon. Buttigieg also pressed Congress to pass the Railway Safety Act, the bipartisan bill introduced by Brown and Vance following the East Palestine disaster. That bill has been stalled in the Senate since last week.