SCHUMER: FOLLOWING CATASTROPHIC RAIL ACCIDENT, SPOTLIGHT TURNS TO CITIES LIKE SYRACUSE, THROUGH WHICH TRAIN CARS CARRYING HAZARDOUS MATERIALS REGULARLY RUN; SENATOR WANTS NEW SAFETY PROTOCOLS IN PLACE ASAP & LAUNCHES TWO-TRACK PLAN TO IMPROVE RAIL SAFETY FOR SYRACUSE AND UPSTATE
After Recent East Palestine Train Derailment, And Following Yet Another Derailment Saturday, Schumer Says Railroads Must Provide Answers NOW On What They Are Doing To Prevent An Accident Like That From Happening In Syracuse Area — A Hub For Freight Rail Activity
Schumer Has A Track Record For Making Local Rail Safer; He Curtailed Dangerous Crude Oil Carrying DOT-111 Train Cars That Frequented Syracuse, Pushed For Tougher Regs — That Rail Companies Undermined — & Now Rallies To Expand Notifications For Hazardous Materials To Keep CNY Safe
Schumer To Railroads: We Can’t Let Safety For Upstate NY Go Off The Rails – It Is Time To Fast Track Commonsense Rail-Safety Reform
Standing near the freight rail tracks in Syracuse's Armory Square, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched his two-track plan to get railroads to increase transparency, boost rail safety, and demand answers on the steps railroads are taking to keep Syracuse and Upstate communities safe amid growing concern from national rail accidents.
The horrific train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Schumer said, focuses a spotlight on the need for serious reforms in how railroads communicate with local communities, and the steps they are taking to stop preventable accidents like this from happening in places like Syracuse.
Schumer, a longtime champion of rail safety who led the charge to get rid of the dangerous crude oil-carrying DOT-111 train cars, that frequented Syracuse, said it is time for immediate action on train cars carrying hazardous materials and ensuring locals have proactive and detailed sharing of information about trains carrying hazardous materials through their communities.
First, the senator revealed a letter to the major railroad companies demanding answers on the actions they are taking to prevent an accident, like what happened in Ohio, from occurring in Upstate New York.
Second, Schumer said he is guiding the Senate to move full steam ahead and support the new bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023 to create new rail safety protocols, hold railroads accountable for malfeasance, and increase transparency of trains carrying hazardous materials in places like Syracuse and across America.
“The horrifying train derailment in Ohio has people in Syracuse and across Upstate rightfully concerned about the safety of trains carrying hazardous materials that regularly run through Syracuse’s downtown and nearby communities. The tracks behind me run right through numerous residential areas of the city, as well as Syracuse's busy Armory Square, a bustling downtown hub full of local businesses and restaurants, and a hazardous chemical spill could be disastrous,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I am demanding answers from major rail companies on what steps they are taking to work with locals and getting them to improve their communications with local governments and first responders. We can’t let this problem go off the rails any further, and I am pushing to hold railroads accountable and fast track bipartisan common sense rail safety reforms that will increase transparency and communication, strengthen safety protocols, increase investment in equipment and personnel, and jack up fines for wrongdoers. We must stop preventable accidents and get first responders the support they need to keep our communities safe.”
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said, "A core responsibility of government is to keep people safe, but when rail companies refuse to disclose what they are shipping and when through our community, that responsibility becomes infinitely and unnecessarily more difficult. Onondaga County has railroad tracks that go by other core pieces of infrastructure including downtown Syracuse, our wastewater treatment facility on Hiawatha Boulevard, DestiNY USA and NBT Bank Stadium to name a few. The proximity to these sites, alone, demands the sharing of information." McMahon continued, "Thank you to Senator Schumer for his relentless advocacy on this issue and for his partnership in ensuring the safety of our community."
“I applaud Majority Leader Schumer for leading the charge for rail safety improvements and pushing for more information sharing by the railroads,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “Knowing how close these trains travel to neighborhoods, business districts and critical infrastructure, he recognizes local governments should not be forced to just wait for an accident. Now is the time to take steps that make the system safer and ensure the Syracuse Fire Department and other first responders have all the information they need to be fully prepared for any occurrence.”
“All efforts by our elected officials to provide more transparent information regarding the transportation of hazardous materials in our community, will undoubtedly result in a safer City, Region, State and Nation - for our citizens and first responders alike. I support and thank Senator Schumer for his dedication to our Fire Department and all first responders across the Nation,” said City of Syracuse Chief of Fire Michael Monds.
In his letter to Norfolk Southern, CSX, and the other major railroads, Schumer demanded that the companies outline the steps they are taking to improve rail safety and better communicate notifications to all levels of government to ensure a preventable tragedy like Ohio’s never happens again.
This builds on Schumer’s advocacy nationally, getting the CEO of Norfolk Southern to testify before Congress. Specifically, the senator pressed them on what changes their companies will make in light of the recent disaster, how they notify local communities, and how they will support the emergency responders by ensuring they have the resources they need.
Schumer has long pushed for information sharing between railroads, states, and localities to be strengthened and improved in order to increase community safety. In 2013, he called for local emergency response officials to be notified in advance of a crude oil-carrying train coming through their community. In response, the U.S. Department of Transportation promptly issued an emergency order requiring State Emergency Response Commissions to be notified, which was subsequently made permanent for High Hazard Flammable Trains in a 2015 rule. Schumer had also secured other increased safety provisions like requiring freight carriers to equip high hazard flammable unit trains carrying crude oil or hazardous materials with Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes, but that rule was later repealed under the Trump administration in 2018.
Schumer also revealed the new bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023 to increase transparency and regulations for trains carrying hazardous materials, get advanced notifications for emergency response, and hold railroads’ accountable for wrongdoings. Specifically, Schumer said the bill, among many other provisions, would:
1. Enhance Safety For All Trains Carrying Hazardous Materials By:
· Requiring emergency response plans and ordering that rail carriers must provide advance notification and information to each State emergency response officials on what they are transporting. The notification must include a written gas discharge plan for the hazardous materials being transported.
· Building on existing phase-outs and retrofits for DOT-111 cars—which Senator Schumer has long-advocated for—by requiring safer standards and specifications for any train carrying Class 3 flammable liquids regardless of the composition of the train—not just High Hazardous Flammable Trains.
· Reducing the risk of wheel bearing failures by requiring trains carrying hazardous materials to be scanned by hotbox detectors every 10 miles and strengthen inspection requirements.
· Adding new requirements to prevent blocked crossings by trains carrying hazardous materials due to railroad delays and address other issues that can prevent or mitigate derailments, including rules for train size and weight.
2. Require Highly Trained, At Least Two-Person Crews To Work Aboard Every Train
· For years, railroads have tried to reduce costs by seeking to reduce locomotive operators to one-person crews. In New York alone railroad workforce has decreased by over 600 laborers between 2010 and 2019. This bill creates a permanent requirement for railroads to operate with at least two-person crews, ensuring that sufficient, well-trained railroad staff are available for safe operation and response in the aftermath of any derailment.
3. Make Rail Carriers Pay For Their Wrongdoing
· Increasing the maximum fine that USDOT can issue for safety violations from $225,000 to 1% of a railroads annual operating income.
4. Support First Responders Who Keep Communities Safe From Derailments:
· Establishing a $1 million annual fee on railroads to pay for training local emergency responders who are the first on the scene to any accident.
· This new fund will go toward expanding Assistance for Local Emergency Response Training (ALERT) grants, from focusing on activities related to transporting crude oil, ethanol, and other flammable liquids, to also including any flammable material. The competitively awarded ALERT program provides trainings for volunteer or remote emergency responders consistent with National Fire Protection Association standard.
Schumer has been a tireless advocate for making improvements to rail safety across New York, and he has taken countless steps to prevent possible issues from trains carrying hazardous materials.
In 2013, Schumer successfully pushed the federal DOT to regulate dangerous crude oil carrying DOT-111 tank cars that were common in Upstate NY. Schumer has also pushed for better information-sharing among railroad companies and local first responders, who are often the first on the scene of a derailment.
Prior to Schumer’s advocacy, railroads carrying crude oil on High Hazard Flammable Trains through New York communities were not required to notify emergency response teams, but he secured a 2014 emergency order by the USDOT that now requires this information to be shared. Schumer has continuously pushed railroads to expand these provisions so local government and first responders have all the information they need.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to major rail carriers appears below:
Dear Mr. Shaw, Mr. Hinrichs, Mr. Creel, Ms. Robinson, Ms. Farmer, Mr. Fritz, and Mr. Ottensmeyer:
In the aftermath of the East Palestine derailment, and another derailment in Springfield, Ohio this past weekend, I demand your companies work cooperatively with all levels of government to ensure a tragedy such as this never happens again.
As reported by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), on February 3, 2023, 38 out of the 150 cars en route from Madison, Illinois to Conway, Pennsylvania, operated by Norfolk Southern and carrying hazardous materials, derailed. This derailment involved 11 cars carrying hazardous materials that led to a devastating fire that covered the town in smoke for two days. While the NTSB’s investigation is ongoing, the agency has determined a wheel bearing was in the final stage of overheat failure before the East Palestine crash. I will be closely following any updates as the NTSB continues this investigation.
We should all agree that safety is of the utmost importance, especially while transporting hazardous and toxic materials. Each and every day, thousands of trains operated by your railroads travel across the country carrying hazardous materials through countless communities. The people who live in these communities are at risk for any failures to maintain the highest safety standards. As I work with my colleagues, the administration and regulators to assess the causes and outcomes of the crash in East Palestine, Ohio, I seek prompt and thorough answers the following questions.
Local officials and emergency responders have a right to know and to be prepared for any and all disasters that may result from your transport of hazardous cargo. These communities are at the mercy of your railroad’s actions, as well as any disregard for safety measures. As I work with my colleagues to assess the causes and outcomes of the crash in East Palestine, Ohio, I call on you to provide responses to the following questions within the next 30 days.
1. Describe in detail what your community outreach process looks like. How can local government officials and emergency responders in New York get the answers they need from your companies?
2. What is your current policy on notifying New York State, local government, and first responders for trains carrying hazardous materials? How often do these communications occur?
3. How will your companies ensure that all local communities along hazardous and toxic material train routes have the appropriate resources to respond to any potential hazardous materials incidents?
4. Please outline in detail how your company plans to work with local governments to respond to any potential disaster. What steps are you taking to prevent any potential disasters from occurring?
5. How many rail car inspectors has your company employed each year for the past ten years, nationwide and in New York? If there has been a decrease in the number of inspectors, why is that?
6. In light of the Norfolk Southern accident in East Palestine, how do you plan to address rail safety inspections in the future?
7. The NTSB has identified a journal bearing as the cause of the derailment and has noted that wayside detectors played a role in the accident. How are your wayside detectors calibrated to detect defects? How far apart are they placed? How often are defect detectors maintained?
8. What other defect detection methods, if any, do you employ?
9. Describe the protocols your company uses to respond to defect alerts from wayside detectors. Are there ever instances when the detectors are ignored? How many times has that happened in the last ten years?
10. Will your companies commit to having your conductors and other rail employees undergo additional safety and response training?
With railroads in the backyards of many small towns, Americans across the country are rightfully worried of a derailment tragedy happening in their community. A tragedy such as this – and one as preventable as the East Palestine derailment – should never happen again. Rail safety and disaster response must be on the forefront of your mind.
Thank you for your
attention to this urgent matter.
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