ICYMI: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg Highlights Action Taken by the Department to Improve Rail Safety A Year After the Norfolk Southern Derailment in East Palestine

USDOT
3 min readFeb 2, 2024

The Secretary is also urging Congress to do their part, and pass the Bipartisan Railway Safety Act

WASHINGTON — The Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, OH on February 3, 2023 led to a nationwide call for safer railways — a call which the Department of Transportation answered.

Under Secretary Buttigieg’s leadership, the Department of Transportation took action to improve rail safety, including:

  • Calling on all Class I Railroads to join a confidential whistleblower program to report safety issues — the first railroad signed on this week, and there are five more to go.
  • Executing focused HAZMAT inspections that inspected 40,000 rail cars, over 75,000 miles of track, and thousands of wayside detectors.
  • Investing billions in projects to make rail safer and eliminate dangerous railroad crossings
  • Advancing rulemakings to ensure there are at least two crew members on trains, that trains carrying hazardous materials have emergency safety equipment on board and available for crew members, and that local emergency responders know when hazardous materials are traveling through their communities.
  • Read about more actions here.

However, Americans continue to wait on Congress to act and pass the Bipartisan Railway Safety Act — legislation that will help improve railway safety and hold Norfolk Southern accountable in ways that the USDOT currently cannot, based on legal authorities. The Department of Transportation is doing its part to improve rail safety. It’s time that Congress does theirs.

See below to read more about DOT’s rail safety work:

Pittsburgh Union Progress: Buttigieg pushes for rail safety law before anniversary

Buttigieg said the administration has taken some administrative steps to improve oversight of the railroad industry, but the quickest and most effective way would be for Congress to change regulations. Just last week, the Federal Railway Administration issued new rules requiring trains to always have at least two staff members on board and called for special breathing equipment to be available for those employees to use during emergencies.

Trains.com: Buttigieg and labor leaders urge Congress to pass railroad safety legislation

“Notably, 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 says.

New York Times: Norfolk Southern Agrees to Try Out Federal Safety Reporting Program

In the aftermath of the derailment, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called on Norfolk Southern and the nation’s other major freight railroads to join the program, one of a series of steps he urged them to take to improve safety.

Yahoo Finance: Norfolk Southern fulfills promise to join federal safety program C3RS

After the derailment, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called on rail companies to join the C3RS program to help prevent disasters like this. The FRA notes that every Class I railroad agreed to join but only NS has actually done so.

The Columbus Dispatch: After East Palestine, Norfolk Southern to let workers use anonymous federal safety hotline

Spectrum: Biden to visit East Palestine a year after Norfolk Southern train derailment

The Railway Safety Act was championed by a bipartisan group of senators from Ohio and Pennsylvania. It would require a two-person crew for certain freight trains, expand training for local first responders and increase the top penalties for railroads violating safety regulations.

Currently, even for egregious violations that result in casualties, USDOT can only fine up to $225,445.

“While that might be a lot to you and me, that’s not a lot for a multi-billion-dollar corporation,” Buttigieg said.

WEWS Cleveland, OH: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg discusses East Palestine improvements a year after train derailment

“We need to make sure that the law of the land supports safer railroads, especially with everything America has learned in the year since that terrible derailment that upended the lives of so many people in and around East Palestine,” Buttigieg said.

WFMJ Youngstown, OH: One-year since East Palestine, are we any safer? What has changed in rail regulations?

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USDOT

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