Cantwell, Brown, Vance, Casey, Fetterman Press Need for Increased Rail and Worker Safety In Resolution

September 21, 2023

Rail Safety Week Marks 230 Days Since East Palestine Derailment

As the Bipartisan Railway Safety Act awaits a vote in the Senate, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Ohio and Pennsylvania Sens. Sherrod Brown, J.D. Vance, Bob Casey and John Fetterman introduced a resolution designating September 18-24 as ‘Rail Safety Week.’ The resolution outlines the urgent need to prevent derailments and worker fatalities, reduce highway-rail grade crossing incidents and strengthen rail safety and the safe transportation of hazardous materials.

“The February 3, 2023, Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in the burning of 6 vinyl chloride tank cars and forced the evacuation of approximately 2,000 nearby residents, was a reminder of the risks posed by hazardous materials transportation,” the senators said in the resolution. “Class I freight railroads had the highest derailment rate in the past decade … more than 43,000 rail workers have been injured.”

“This important observance should lead to greater safety awareness and a reduction in highway-rail grade crossing collisions, derailments, rail worker fatalities and other railroad incidents,” the senators continued.

The resolution notes that in the last decade, Class I freight railroads had the highest derailment rate, a 14 percent increase, and more than 43,000 rail workers have been injured and 135 rail workers have been killed on duty, according to preliminary 2022 Federal statistics.

The bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023 was introduced following the East Palestine derailment. The legislation would strengthen rail safety requirements, improve train car inspections, increase standards for transporting hazardous materials, give more support to first responders and increase penalties on rail companies for wrongdoing. The bill was passed by the Senate Commerce Committee in May and was originally sponsored by Ohio and Pennsylvania Sens. Sherrod Brown, J.D. Vance, Bob Casey and John Fetterman.

“During Rail Safety Week, from September 18 through 24, 2023, and throughout the year, everyone is encouraged to take added caution as motorists or pedestrians approach tracks or trains,” the resolution said.

Rail Safety Week was launched in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the education safety nonprofit Operation Lifesaver to raise awareness about safety around highway-rail grade crossings and railroad tracks and to highlight efforts to further reduce collisions, injuries and fatalities. According to the resolution, approximately 94 percent of all rail-related fatalities last year were caused by highway-rail grade crossing and trespassing incidents. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law established the first-ever Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program, authored by Senator Cantwell, to deliver $3 billion over five years to help local communities construct highway-rail grade separation projects to eliminate crossings. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded the first round of funding, delivering $570 million to address dangerous highway-railroad crossings in 32 states.

Read the resolution here.