White House announces $1.4 billion to boost rail safety and capacity

September 25, 2023

The Biden Administration announced Monday that it’s awarding more than $1.4 billion to fund railway safety projects and increase capacity in 35 states and DC. 

The funding has been allocated through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Some 70 projects will include track upgrades and bridge repairs, and improve connectivity between railways. They’ll also boost weatherproofing to make routes less vulnerable to extreme conditions. 

“These projects will make American rail safer, more reliable, and more resilient, delivering tangible benefits to dozens of communities where railroads are located, and strengthening supply chains for the entire country,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

A $174 million grant has already been allocated to restore passenger service in parts of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi along the Gulf of Mexico which have been out of commssion since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. The move was applauded by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) who said, “Restoring passenger rail service will create jobs, improve quality of life, and offer a convenient travel option for tourists, contributing to our region’s economic growth and vitality.”

Other grants have already been announced for projects such as track improvements in Washington state to allow for the handling of modern 286,000-pound railcars, and upgrades to more than 40 bridges in Tennessee. 

The announcement of the funding comes after the February 3 freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill.

Roughly month after that disaster a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators—J.D. Vance (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), John Fetterman (D-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO)—introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023.

That bill includes several provisions for boosting rail safety to prevent future such catastrophes. It includes “new safety requirements and procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials like vinyl chloride,” as well as a mandate that railways give advance notice to railways to state emergency response officials about what their trains are carrying. The bill also includes requirements to prevent blocked railway crossings and new rules for train size and weight. 

The legislation passed in the Senate Commerce Committee less than two weeks later  but has yet to be taken up by the full Senate or the House.

Last week, President Biden issued an executive order directing the appointment of a disaster recovery coordinator to oversee the the East Palenstine derailment, though he has not declared the site a major disaster.

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