Rubio, Vance question Buttigieg on freight rail oversight in wake of Ohio train derailment

Associated Press/FILE

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and J.D. Vance (Ohio) on Wednesday questioned Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg over the department’s oversight of the U.S. rail system in the wake of a train derailment in Ohio that has been spilling toxic chemicals since the crash.

“We write to convey our alarm over the Norfolk Southern Railway freight train derailment that occurred in Ohio earlier this month,” the senators wrote in a letter to Buttigieg. “In particular, we request information from the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding its oversight of the United States’ freight train system and, more generally, how it balances building a safe, resilient rail industry across our country in relation to building a hyper-efficient one with minimal direct human input.”

A 150-car train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, causing fires at the site of the pileup and causing chemicals to leak from one of several cars noted to be carrying hazardous materials. Nearby residents were evacuated due to fears of a possible explosion while officials conducted a controlled release to try and alleviate the danger. 

Evacuation orders have since been lifted, but the cancer-causing chemical vinyl chloride and other toxic substances have leaked into nearby air and water, sparking environmental and health concerns.  

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash, but the senators in their letter said “it appears that a mechanical failure in one of the rail cars may have played a critical role.”

Rubio and Vance highlighted that the 150-car train had just a three-member crew to oversee the locomotive’s operations. 

“It is not unreasonable to ask whether a crew of two rail workers, plus one trainee, is able to effectively monitor 150 cars,” they wrote, noting concerns about “this administration’s prioritizing of efficiency over resilience in its national infrastructure and transportation systems.” 

The senators, in their letter, requested the Department of Transportation to respond to a number of questions about the agency’s practices, including the effects of its “precision-scheduled railroading” and its classification system for trains carrying hazardous materials. 

The Hill has reached out to the agency for comment.

Tags Marco Rubio Ohio Pete Buttigieg train derailment vinyl chloride

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