WASHINGTON ― Saturday marks one year since a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, spreading toxic chemicals all over the community.
And in that time, Congress has done “absolutely nothing” to make railroads safer, and keeps failing to act on bipartisan legislation to prevent something like that from happening again, Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) said in a Thursday speech on the House floor.
He made the same point again in a Friday letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).
The Ohio train derailment “significantly impacted the lives of my constituents across the state line in Beaver Country, Pennsylvania,” Deluzio wrote to Johnson. “I have spent the past year fighting to make freight rail safer for folks like us. It is long past time that Congress takes bipartisan action.”
“Accordingly, I ask that you bring the Railway Safety Act to the floor for a vote before Congress adjourns for the August recess,” he said.
This bill, which Deluzio introduced last March with Republican Rep. Nick LaLota (N.Y.), has a wild, bipartisan mix of supporters. The Senate version is led by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R), along with cosponsors Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). The bill has both Democratic and GOP supporters in both chambers. The Biden administration backs it. So does former President Donald Trump.
But it hasn’t gone anywhere. The House hasn’t touched the Railway Safety Act since it was introduced nearly a year ago. In the Senate, after months of inaction, it was finally reported out of committee in December and is now waiting to be scheduled for a floor vote.
The fact that a bill with this much support in both parties, in both chambers, hasn’t moved for this long is just weird.
Deluzio told HuffPost he doesn’t get it either, except to say he suspects influential rail companies have been lobbying members of Congress not to take any action that would mean more regulations on their business or eat into their profits.
“I can’t answer for House Republican leaders,” he said. “We’re just sick and tired of being treated like collateral damage in the way of corporate profits.”
Democrats have accusedNorfolk Southern ofprioritizing profits over safety. From 2018 to 2023, the rail company paid its shareholders nearly $18 billion through stock buybacks and dividends, according to Democratic House committee staff.
In testimony before Congress last March, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan apologized for the East Palestine train derailment and vowed to donate millions of dollars to help the town recover. But he didn’t lend any support to the bill imposing tougher safety requirements.
Deluzio’s bill would impose a number of new safety reforms on the rail industry, including new requirements for wayside defect detectors — sensors placed along the rails that notify train operators of problems like overheated bearings. The crew operating the train in the East Palestine derailment got a warning from these detectors, but not in time to stop the train before three dozen cars flew off the tracks and caught on fire, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.
The bill would also increase fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers, beef up safety procedures for trains that are carrying hazardous materials and create new requirements to prevent blocked railroad crossings.
In his letter to Johnson, Deluzio said the legislation is the direct result of multiple conversations he’d had with people in communities hurt by the Ohio train derailment. He again accused railroad companies of using their influence to prevent the bill from moving.
The railroad lobby has been telling members of Congress “to do nothing to make rail safer and risk cutting into their profits,” wrote the Pennsylvania Democrat. “Since introducing this bill over 10 months ago, that is exactly what has happened: nothing.”
A Johnson spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Congress has done “absolutely nothing” to make railroads safer, said Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.), who is peeved that the House isn't moving his bipartisan bill to prevent another horrific train derailment like last year's disaster in East Palestine, Ohio.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been touting actions that his department has taken to improve rail safety, like calling on large rail operators like Amtrak to join a confidential whistleblower program to report safety issues and inspecting some 40,000 rail cars, more than 75,000 miles of track and thousands of wayside detectors.
But there’s a limit to how much Buttigieg can do without Congress acting, and earlier this week he called out lawmakers for letting the Railway Safety Act languish.
“One year later, Congress still has not acted to pass the bipartisan Railway Safety Act, which would be a decisive victory for rail worker safety and the ability to hold railroad corporations accountable,” Buttigieg said in a Thursday call with rail labor leaders. “Any congressional leader from any party who is serious about rail safety should show it by supporting this legislation.”
It’s not clear when the Senate plans to take up its version of the bill. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he didn’t have a specific timeline to share. But he emphasized that it is on their radar.
“This is a priority to get done,” Schumer said in a statement. “Of course, we have to also work to pass the supplemental and keep the government funded.”