(The Center Square) – Ten points of enhancement or change are being recommended by the national transportation secretary nearly three weeks after a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Pete Buttigieg, in a release early Tuesday morning, also issued five requests specifically for Norfolk Southern. His 10 action items include five focuses for the U.S. Department of Transportation and five measures requested of Congress.
Norfolk Southern’s train carrying hazardous materials derailed in the small town of just under 5,000 along the Pennsylvania border on Feb. 3 and news coverage escalated in the last seven days.
The rail industry, in defense of its safety record, said 99.9% of hazardous materials reach their destinations without incident. The accident rate involving hazardous materials has declined 55% since 2012, said a message posted to Union Pacific’s website.
Five of the cars in Ohio were carrying vinyl chloride, a colorless gas that is hazardous. A decision for a controlled release and burn on Feb. 6 was heavily criticized.
Buttigieg, who separately wrote a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw on Sunday, on Tuesday asked the rail company to work with rail car owners to phase in sooner a safety measure with a 2029 mandate. He also asked the company to be proactive in giving notice to first responders of hazardous materials transports through states, rather than first responders having to look up the information after an incident.
Buttigieg’s other three points involved workers. He asked for human elements of inspection to remain despite lobbyists wanting more use of technology; protection “from reprisal” for workers who spot and call attention to safety issues; and paid sick leave.
USDOT, Buttigieg says, will initiate two inspection programs, one dealing with routes and another with legacy tank cars. He said the agency will use Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds to modernize and improve tracks and crossings; and it will pursue rules changes, including a train crew staffing standard.
Congress is being asked to allow more fines by USDOT; to strengthen regulations involving hazardous shipments, and to hasten the phase-in of the hazardous materials rule that is not mandated until 2029. Lawmakers are also asked for more modern breaking regulations in the rail industry, and to expand hazardous materials training for first responders.