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After East Palestine Train Derailment, Schumer Says We Need Legislation To Prevent An Accident Like That From Happening In Western New York, A Hub For Freight Rail Activity – Norfolk Southern Has Already Had Two Destructive Derailment’s In Wyoming County, On Top Of Other WNY Accidents Like The 2020 Accident In East Aurora Near Buffalo

Schumer Updates On New Bipartisan Bill That Would Expand Notifications For Hazardous Materials, Hold Wrongdoers Accountable, And Support First Responders To Keep WNY Safe

Schumer: We Can’t Let Safety For Upstate NY Go Off The Rails – It Is Time To Fast Track Commonsense Rail-Safety Reform

Standing along the Norfolk Southern line in Attica, NY which has already had a destructive train derailment in 2018, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said key new legislation, the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023 is full steam ahead. Building on Schumer’s direct calls to railroads last month to get answers from railroads on how they can better improve safety in Upstate New York, the senator details how this bill will help create new rail safety protocols, hold railroads accountable for malfeasance, and increase transparency of trains carrying hazardous materials which is critical for hubs of freight rail activity like Western New York.

“The horrifying train derailment in Ohio has people in Attica, Buffalo, and across Western New York rightfully concerned about the safety of trains carrying hazardous materials that regularly run through our communities. The tracks behind me traverse the heart of Wyoming County, and we have seen firsthand how destructive and terrifying a derailment can be both here in Attica in 2018 and in East Aurora in 2020,” said Senator Schumer. “Western New York is a hub for freight rail activity and we can’t let this problem go off the rails any further. I am here to say that the Senate is moving full steam ahead with bipartisan common sense rail safety reforms, and as majority leader I will serve as the conductor and do all I can to get the support needed to increase transparency and communication, strengthen safety protocols, increase investment in equipment and personnel, and jack up fines for wrongdoers.”

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 need for safety reforms to stop preventable accidents like this from happening in places like Buffalo, Attica, and Western NY. Schumer, a longtime champion of rail safety who led the charge to eliminate the use of DOT-111 train cars to carry crude oil and ethanol, said it is time for action and that the Railway Safety Act is the first major step to making that happen.

Western New York has a long history of derailments and other accidents, which Schumer said makes it even more important to strike while the iron is hot to get this bill passed as soon as possible. In 2020, a train derailed in in East Aurora while carrying propane through the town. Authorities described the incident as a near miss, saying that the crash could have been potentially “catastrophic.” Wyoming County itself has seen two railroad derailments in recent years.  First in 2018, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Attica, sending two railroad engines and about 10 railroad cars off the tracks where the lead engine caught fire due to diesel fuel. Approximately ten different fire and emergency services from Wyoming and adjoining counties responded to the scene including Alexander Fire, Varysburg Fire, Bennington Fire, Wyoming County Emergency Services and Hazmat Team, Genesee County Emergency Services and Hazmat Team, NYS Police, Attica Fire, and Wyoming Correctional Facility.  Because of its position the engine that caught fire was largely left to burn out primarily due to the difficult location of the derailment, and the cleanup spanned several days. Then in 2020, a a train derailed in Silver Springs causing at least two covered hoppers used for hauling salt to tip over completely, while several others had derailed but remained upright. The incident brought the switching operations to a halt downtown. Most of the village’s railroad crossings were blocked for about 12 hours while railroad crews worked to clean up the wreckage. 

Moreover, Schumer explained the CSX mainline runs from Buffalo across Genesee County and the GLOW region. This is one of the busiest lines in CSX’s network and transports materials including oil trains carrying volatile crude oil.

Rebecca Ryan, Chair of Wyoming County Board of Supervisors said, “I would like to thank Senator Schumer for his efforts to prevent rail disasters such as the one in East Palestine, Ohio and the surrounding region into Pennsylvania. We agree that when disasters occur, it is local emergency first responders first on the scene. It is imperative that the railroad and local municipalities and their emergency first responders have open lines of communication and transparency in order to develop proper emergency response plans. Training is essential to implement those response plans and the inclusion of grant funding is needed and greatly appreciated.  Again, thank you to Senator Schumer for steering this bi-partisan legislation through to ensure rail safety for Wyoming County and the nation.”

Brian Meyers, Director of Fire and Emergency Management for Wyoming County said, “After the train derailments in Attica in 2018, and more recently in Silver Springs in 2020, Wyoming County knows firsthand the effects these crashes have on our community and first responders. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s support for the Railway Safety Act because making sure these trains are safe and that we have the support and information we need is vital to ensuring the safety of all Wyoming County residents.”

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.

This builds on Schumer’s direct advocacy to get answers from railroad companies and increase transparency. In a letter sent last month, 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. Schumer also successfully got the CEO of Norfolk Southern to testify before Congress. The senator has also written to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) urging them to undertake safety audits of the major freight railroads operating in the country.

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. 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.