Transportation Secretary says Congress could help improve rail safety regulations

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says the administration wants stronger regulations on freight trains following the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, but “our hand would be a lot stronger if Congress would strengthen it.”

During the National Association of Farm Broadcasting’s Washington Watch today, he said Congressional action is needed.  

“I’ll give you an example. Right now, even if we find an egregious hazardous material-related violation by a railroad resulting in a fatality, the most we can assess by way of a penalty is in the neighborhood of $250,000. And if you’re a multi-billion-dollar corporation like Norfolk Southern, in my view, that’s not enough to get your attention. That cap is set by Congress, but there is bipartisan legislation co-sponsored among others by Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown and Republican Senator J.D. Vance from Ohio which would change that and raise it to a level that would get their attention in addition to a number of other concrete improvements including the adoption of stronger tank cars for railroads.”

He says the legislation could move in Congress as early as the next few weeks.

“We would enthusiastically support progress on that because that would strengthen our hand,” he says. “But, with the tools we have, we’re going to do everything we can.”

He told farm broadcasters that the administration has ramped up some safety measures since the train derailment.

“From day one (of this administration), we have stepped up safety audits that were slowed down or withdrawn under the last administration because we think it’s very important to look over the shoulders of these freight railroad companies and make sure they’re compliant,” he says. “Since what happened in East Palestine, we have done additional supplemental inspections and safety advisories related to things like wayside defect detectors or hotbox detectors, devices that can sense temperature anomalies in the wheels as they pass by; hazardous materials and how they’re handled; and other things that we think deserve special attention right now.”

A Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, more than two months ago. Environmental monitoring and clean-up efforts are ongoing in the area.

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