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Joe Manchin calls on Buttigieg to improve safety inspections after East Palestine train derailment

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is demanding Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg answer his questions on the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio and improve safety inspections for trains.

The conservative Democrat sent a letter to the secretary on Friday about the train derailment, which occurred just 20 miles from the Ohio-West Virginia border.

“I greatly appreciate the swift response of first responders and local and state officials, and am relieved there are no current reports that indicate West Virginians should be concerned for their air or water quality,” Mr Manchin wrote in his letter. “However, I understand the concerns raised by West Virginians and Ohioans in close proximity to the site. People deserve answers.”

Mr Buttigieg has been criticised by Republicans and even some Democrats for his slow response to the derailment of a train carrying explosive materials in East Palestine, Ohio. Former president Donald Trump has criticised the Biden administration’s response as well.

Mr Manchin, who represents a state that voted overwhelmingly for Mr Trump, has not announced whether he will seek another term in the Senate in 2024. He also serves as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Mr Manchin’s letter cited a preliminary report from the the National Transportation Safety Board that found that a wheel bearing heated up miles before the derailment but did not reach a critical threshold until right before the accident.

“This raises serious questions around equipment maintenance, inspections, and existing safety systems intended to prevent these accidents,” Mr Manchin wrote, adding that in 2022, the Federal Railroad Administration reported 1,044 train derailments.

“Since that time, rail infrastructure has played an increasingly important role in our domestic energy and chemical industries,” Mr Manchin wrote. “While that economic activity is welcome, we must protect the people of West Virginia and the other communities across the country who live along these corridors.”

Mr Manchin cited the fact that he supported the FRA’s rule requiring Electronically-Controlled Pneumatic for trains carrying hazardous materials to have Electronically-Controlled Pneumatic brakes. But the Trump administration rolled back the regulation.

“It has now been over 16 years since FRA first began studying ECP. As train lengths and weights have increased along with the tonnage we ship across the U.S. by freight rail in recent years, I encourage the FRA to revisit this cost-benefit analysis,” he wrote. “As I said then, we simply can’t afford to be wrong.”

Mr Buttigieg visited East Palestine on Thursday and criticised how the Trump administration had rolled back the regulations and never sent its Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to visit a train derailment site.