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After Ohio Train Crash, Bipartisan Bill Emerges to Improve Rail Safety

East Palestine

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The toxic train derailment in Ohio set the lights on in Congress, which quickly assembled a bipartisan consensus to try to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. The legislation was introduced on March 1 and has a clear objective: to increase safety restrictions on trains carrying hazardous materials.  

The bill was dubbed the Rail Safety Act of 2023 and has the signatures of J. D. Vance and Sherrod Brown, senators from the Buckeye State. Both celebrated the bipartisan effort in the Senate, which includes as co-sponsors Marco Rubio (R-FL), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Fetterman (D-PA).  

If passed, the legislation would require railroads to report hazardous materials on trains to state authorities, increase inspection requirements, and increase defect detection efforts.

“Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again. We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind,” Vance said in a statement.  

“Action to prevent future disasters is critical, but we must never lose sight of the needs of the Ohioans living in East Palestine and surrounding communities. One day, the TV cameras will leave, and the news cycle will move on, but the needs of those Ohioans will remain,” added the senator, who is going through his first year in the upper chamber.

“It shouldn’t take a massive railroad disaster for elected officials to put partisanship aside and work together for the people we serve – not corporations like Norfolk Southern,” said Sen. Brown, who currently holds one of the most sought-after Senate seats heading into 2024.  

The bill would also increase several civil penalties for violations of rail safety regulations tenfold and require each train to operate with crews of at least two people. As for safety in the transportation of hazardous materials, a point that points directly to what happened in Ohio, each carrier would be required to develop a gas discharge plan and submit it to periodic inspections with minimum time requirements.

Ohio toxic train accident

At 21:00 hours on February 3, the train derailed in East Palestine. The engine was in the middle of a journey between Madison (Illinois) and Conway (Pennsylvania) and was carrying a total of 150 cars. The accident caused 38 of them to derail and another 14 to catch fire.

So far there seemed to be no major problem, other than putting out the fire and getting the train back on track. The problem lies exclusively in what was being transported: hazardous chemicals such as vinyl chloride, a highly flammable and potentially carcinogenic toxic gas.  

A train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed on February 3 in the small town of East Palestine, Ohio (EFE).

The episode caused dense smoke that set off alarms at the governor’s mansion. Faced with the danger of the explosion, residents on both sides of the border in Ohio and Pennsylvania were ordered to evacuate.

On February 5, authorities released all the toxic chemicals present in five tank cars in a controlled manner and diverted the contents into a ditch, where they were subsequently burned. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, “A team of experts” detonated the chemicals and ignited them to “prevent a potentially catastrophic explosion following a train derailment.”  

There was a subsequent investigation involving local and federal officials, primarily the NTSB and the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the findings, a wheel bearing failure moments before the derailment is believed to have caused the accident.

The federal investigation came to the preliminary conclusion that the accident was caused by a malfunctioning railroad axle. “SSurveillance video from a residence showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” the NTSB said in a press release. “The wheelset from the suspected railcar has been collected as evidence for metallurgical examination,” the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a press release.

Joaquín Núñez es licenciado en comunicación periodística por la Universidad Católica Argentina. Se especializa en el escenario internacional y en la política nacional norteamericana. Confeso hincha de Racing Club de Avellaneda. Contacto: [email protected] // Joaquín Núñez has a degree in journalistic communication from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He specializes in the international scene and national American politics. Confessed fan of Racing Club of Avellaneda. Contact: [email protected]