Washington Examiner

Rail safety legislation still in limbo as NTSB prepares to release report on East Palestine – Washington Examiner

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is slated to finalize its report on the⁣ train ​derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, ​Ohio. This accident, involving hazardous materials and occurring​ over 16‌ months ago, will be documented in an executive summary with a full⁣ report‌ to ‍follow weeks later.‌ The findings will outline the probable ‌causes and safety recommendations, potentially accelerating legislative efforts for ⁤rail safety improvements. A bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senators J.D. Vance ‌and Sherrod Brown, proposes new regulations and penalties for trains carrying hazardous materials. Although the bill passed a committee vote, it faces delays and opposition on the Senate floor, notably from Republicans concerned about imposing more regulations on the rail industry. Some concessions have been made, such as⁢ exemptions for smaller rail companies, to​ garner broader support.


The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday will wrap up its final report on the derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, which could reinforce urgency for lawmakers to enact rail safety legislation that has long been stalled.

More than 16 months after dozens of cars on a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed in the town at the edge of the Appalachian hills, the board is expected to approve its final report and will release an executive summary. The full report isn’t expected to be released until several weeks later.

Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed the night before burn in East Palestine, Ohio, Feb. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

The findings of the report are expected to include details about probable cause as well as safety recommendations, which is reinvigorating an effort to pass long-stalled legislation to enhance rail safety standards. The bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the most vulnerable incumbents this cycle, would impose new regulations for trains carrying hazardous materials, while also putting in place new penalties for trains that violate the new safety standards.

The committee advanced the bill in May 2023 along a mostly party-line vote, with Vance and Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO) the only Republicans in favor. However, the bill still awaits a floor vote and has languished for over a year. The bill has faced overwhelming Republican opposition over the regulations it would impose on rail companies. While some Republicans have backed the bill, some are not convinced it is not “big government.”

Vance has worked to make some compromises to the rail industry, such as smaller companies being exempt from a two-person crew requirement it imposes, while funds were allocated for commuter railroads to install hotboxes to detect malfunctions on their tracks.

Brown has previously blamed rail lobbyists for killing efforts to move his bill. According to OpenSecrets, Norfolk Southern spent $2.3 million on federal lobbying last year, which was up from $1.8 million spent in 2022. There have been lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have been hesitant to move forward with the Senate bill until the NTSB final report is out.

“Senator Brown sees the report, further underscoring the need for the Railway Safety Act,” an aide to the senator told the Washington Examiner.

There is some optimism that the report could spur some action in the upper chamber. However, several aides note that senators only have 29 legislative days left before the election. There are just three in-session weeks remaining before the August recess, and there are concerns that the bill will once again rank low on the totem pole.

Vance complained that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been running out the clock, setting up votes that primarily are messaging items rather than trying to find compromises on bills such as the Railway Safety Act.

“This is week three of Chuck Schumer focusing on fake problems instead of real problems,” Vance told the Washington Examiner last week. “We have real problems. I have a rail safety bill that he promised he’d bring up to the floor for a vote. Let’s do the things that actually have a chance of passing and actually making this country a better place.”

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Senate Democrats attempted a test vote of the bill a couple of weeks ago, but Senate Commerce Committee Republicans blocked it. House Republican leaders have not considered a legislative version of the bill on the floor in their chamber.

David Sivak contributed to this report.



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