Conservative group pushes back on bipartisan rail safety bill

FILE – A view of the scene Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, as the cleanup continues at the site of a Norfolk Southern freight train derailment that happened on Feb. 3, in East Palestine, Ohio. On Tuesday, Feb. 28, in the wake of a fiery Ohio derailment and other recent crashes, federal regulators urged that freight railroads should reexamine the way they use and maintain the detectors along the tracks that are supposed to spot overheating bearings. (AP Photo/Matt Freed, File)

A conservative advocacy group is pushing lawmakers to oppose a bipartisan rail safety bill that was introduced following the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment, claiming it would create “gross inefficiencies” for businesses and give the Department of Transportation “unimaginable authority.”

“Introduced following the horrible accident in East Palestine, Ohio, the legislation offers a slew of significant new regulations that would do little to improve safety while creating gross inefficiencies for thousands of businesses,” FreedomWorks said in a letter to lawmakers on Monday.

“The provisions within the bill are much like the list of recommendations offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and would grant this struggling agency unimaginable authority,” the group added.

FreedomWorks instead suggested that lawmakers focus on “recovery for the people of East Palestine” and ensure “Norfolk Southern makes good on their commitments,” while waiting for more information from the National Transportation Safety Board on the derailment.

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 was introduced by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R) and Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey (D) and John Fetterman (D), among others, following the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, in the town of East Palestine, near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

Authorities conducted a controlled release and burn-off of the chemicals following the derailment amid fears of a potential explosion. However, concerns remain about potential health hazards created by the spill and authorities’ response.

The bill would create new safety requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials, require more frequent use of sensors that detect overheated wheel bearings, increase inspections of rail cars, raise fines for safety violations, and mandate at least a two-person crew per train.

FreedomWorks said in its letter to lawmakers on Monday that despite the “preventable accident” in East Palestine, “U.S. railroads are safe overall.”

“Rail companies would be forced to divert resources away from critical research and development, which could have otherwise been used to advance new technologies and improve efficiency,” it added.

The proposed legislation was already facing pushback from some Senate Republicans. Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, suggested that it was too soon to take action and that he was “uncomfortable” giving “much more power” to the Department of Transportation and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“We’ll take a look at what’s being proposed, but an immediate quick response heavy on regulation needs to be thoughtful and targeted,” Thune told The Hill. “Let’s define the problem. Let’s figure out what the solutions are and if there are things we need to fix, we’ll fix them.”

Tags Bob Casey Department of Transportation East Palestine East Palestine train derailment John Thune Pete Buttigieg Railway Safety Act of 2023 Sherrod Brown

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