Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are demanding answers from the federal government over the response to the derailment of a train transporting dangerous chemicals in Ohio.

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and J.D. Vance of Ohio sent a letter to the Department of Transportation Wednesday calling for information over its oversight of the U.S. freight train system, while lobbing criticism over how Norfolk Southern was allowed to operate a train of some 150 cars with only three employees.

In the letter, addressed to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, that pair said they have concerns over the industry’s precision-scheduled railroading that permits companies to reduce costs by using fewer workers to transport more freight, as well as the administration of President Joe Biden’s “prioritizing of efficiency over resilience in its national infrastructure and transportation systems.”

Buttigieg has responded to criticism over the derailment by attempting to divert at least some of it to the former Trump administration, stating the Biden administration is “constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation,” referring to rollbacks committed under the previous White House, specifically pointing to the withdrawal of requiring electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on trains carrying flammable liquids.

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The Norfolk Southern Railway freight train transporting chemicals, including vinyl chloride, derailed Feb. 3 in the the Ohio city of East Palestine, located along the Pennsylvania border, and a controlled release of the hazardous material was performed last week to prevent rail cars from exploding.

Vance also joined Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey and Jon Fetterman, both of Pennsylvania, in calling on the National Transportation Safety Board to raise concerns over weak requirements on so-called high-hazard flammable trains, axle and railcar inspections, electronically controlled pneumatic brakes and railroad practices.

“NTSB must independently assess all factors and causes that may have contributed to this derailment, and the board can identify safety recommendations that might prevent similar derailments,” the bipartisan Senators said in a letter to Jennifer Homendy, chair of the NTSB.

The letter was sent a day after the NTSB announced that investigators believe the derailment may have been caused by a wheel bearing on a single car overheating and then completely failing.

In the update, officials said the wheelset has been collected as evidence and is undergoing examination.

It also clarified that of the 150 or so cars of the train 38 had derailed with another 12 damaged by the ensuing fire. There were also a total of 20 hazardous material cars, 11 of which derailed.

A list of the materials that were in the cars states five contained vinyl chloride, a highly flammable chemical that is associated with an increased risk of several cancers.

The four senators on Wednesday sent another letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan over fears of the hazardous materials released from the trains into the air last week, forcing officials to establish a since-rescinded evacuation zone.

“No American family should be forced to face the horror of fleeing their homes because hazardous materials have spilled or caught fire in their community,” they told Regan. “We ask that EPA uses its existing authorities … to ensure Norfolk Souther pays for the clean-up of these hazardous materials, as well as compensates residents and affected businesses as required.

“Additionally, we ask that EPA continue monitoring the land, air and water in East Palestine, Darlington Township and impacted communities until the long-term effects of the exposure are fully understood.”

Vance individually on Wednesday also sent a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw requesting to expand the criteria for reimbursement to all residents of East Palestine, and not just those within the 1-mile evacuation zone.

“They are all affected. They should be reimbursed,” he said. “I would strongly assert, however, that these checks should not and do not release the railroad from any liability it has incurred as a result of this disaster.”

Norfolk Southern announced Wednesday that it has distributed more than $1 million to families in East Palestine to cover the cost of the evacuation, which included cash lodging, travel, food, clothes and other items. It has also contacted 30 local businesses affected by the derailment.

Gov. Mike DeWine also announced that new water testing for the city’s municipal water system shows no detection of contaminates, tweeting that the Ohio EPA “is confident that the municipal water is safe to drink.”


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