Cantwell Urges Passage of Bipartisan Rail Safety Legislation Ahead of East Palestine Anniversary: “Rail Safety Has Headed in the Wrong Direction”

January 31, 2024

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the devastating train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, 2023, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, renewed her call for Congress to pass the bipartisan Railway Safety Act. Sen. Cantwell led the passage of the legislation through the Senate Commerce Committee last May and it awaits a vote by the full Senate.

In the year since the East Palestine derailment, rail safety has headed in the wrong direction,” said Sen. Cantwell. “The number of derailments since East Palestine has increased by over 13 percent while most railroads have failed to follow through on their simple commitment to join the Department of Transportation’s close call reporting program. With over 80 million Americans living within one mile of a Class I railroad track, Congress must pass the Railway Safety Act to strengthen oversight over the railroads and get safety back on track.”

Percentage of each county’s population that lives within a mile of a Class I freight railroad track segment
Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than 80 million people live within one mile of a Class I freight rail track. Since the East Palestine derailment alone, derailments have increased by 13.5 percent, according to data compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration as reported by the New York Times.

The bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023 was introduced by Ohio and Pennsylvania Sens. Sherrod Brown, J.D. Vance, Bob Casey and John Fetterman following last year’s Ohio 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. A summary of its key provisions can be found here.

Last May, Sen. Cantwell joined ‘rail town’ mayors and local officials from the National League of Cities (NLC) to call for the passage of the legislation. The NLC launched an interactive map showing the alarming number of train derailments nationwide. According to the NLC, an average of three trains derail per day, with as many as half potentially carrying hazardous substances. The top five states with derailments over the last decade are Texas, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio.