Senate Committee Passes Bipartisan Rail Safety Bill

May 10, 2023

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted to pass a sweeping rail safety bill.

The bill passed 16-11 along bipartisan lines. It would mandate the use of technology that can identify equipment failures, prevents cursory railcar inspections, and ensure that trains carrying explosive material like comply with stronger safety regulations.

The bill would also increase maximum civil penalties from $100,000 to $10 million for rail safety violations. Further, it requires at a minimum two crew members be present to operate a train.

The move comes just over three months after a February 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill.

Both the Department of Justice and the state of Ohio have sued rail owner Norfolk Southern over the derailment. 

An initial report in February by the National Transportation Safety Board found that a wheel bearing on rail car 23 had passed three sensors prior to the East Palestine derailment. With each passing, the temperature had risen higher. The third sensor reported the temperature at 253 degrees, causing its automatic emergency braking to kick in and bring the train to a full stop. 

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Committee in March, apologizing for the derailment and promising that the rail owner won’t finish “until we make it right.”

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