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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 Cities Like Buffalo, Rochester, Albany And In Communities Across Upstate NY Along Rail Lines  

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

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today revealed a letter sent to the major railroad companies demanding answers on the actions they are taking to keep Upstate communities safe and to prevent an accident, like what happened in East Palestine, Ohio, from occurring in New York.

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 across Upstate New York.

Schumer, a longtime champion of rail safety who led the charge to get rid of the dangerous, crude oil-carrying DOT-111 train cars, 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. 

“The horrifying train derailment in Ohio has people across Upstate New York rightfully concerned about the safety of trains coming through their communities every day. These railroad tracks often run right through residential areas as well as bustling downtown hubs 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, as well as getting them to improve their communications with local governments and first responders. We can’t let this problem go off the rails any further – I am pushing to hold these railroads accountable in order to stop preventable accidents and get first responders the support they need to keep our communities safe.” 

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 rail companies 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 been a tireless advocate for making improvements to rail safety across New York, and he has taken numerous 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 then 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. 

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.

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.[1] 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.