March 3, 2023

East Palestine Derailment

“Railroads including the one whose train derailed and caught fire in Ohio would have to follow new safety rules under bipartisan legislation introduced Wednesday by the state’s two U.S. senators, even as regulators plan to step up inspections on tracks carrying the most hazardous materials…

“The Railway Safety Act of 2023, co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and JD Vance, a Republican, and four others responds to the derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train in East Palestine, in northeast Ohio near Pennsylvania, on Feb. 3, when 38 cars derailed and several carrying hazardous materials burned.” AP News

Here’s our prior coverage of the incident. The Flip Side

See past issues

From the Left

The left supports additional regulations for railway companies.

“It’s hard to say whether [the measures in the bill] would have stopped the East Palestine accident from happening. But they might have allowed workers to catch malfunctions early, and keep them from happening in the first place with preventive maintenance…

“While the bill makes strides in improving safety regulations, it doesn’t include everything on Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s wishlist. For one, he has asked rail carriers to ‘join a close call reporting system that protects whistleblowers who spot issues that could lead to accidents,’ in which only one freight rail company currently participates voluntarily…

“The bill also doesn’t include any protections for railroad workers, who threatened to go on strike in December amid complaints of grueling conditions with little work-life balance. They have reported being on call 24/7 every day of the year, unable to call in sick or even go to the doctor… [Sen.] Rubio and Vance have questioned whether spreading these workers too thin may have contributed to the safety failures that led to the East Palestine accident.”

Nicole Narea, Vox

“In the past decade, America’s freight rail companies have become zealots for efficiency. Trains are longer, and they don’t stop as often… Scheduling is meticulous. Nearly 60,000 jobs disappeared since 2015. The companies’ stock prices and profitability have surged. Still, derailments are at historic lows. But the East Palestine accident has shown how deficient the industry has been when it comes to investing in upgrades…

“Many trains still rely on a Civil War-era braking system, and they aren’t using the latest detectors that experts say could have caught the deteriorating bearing months before that fateful day… It’s costly to retrofit trains… but an industry that has seen such a surge in profit margins in recent years can afford to make this safety investment.”

Editorial Board, Washington Post

Meanwhile, “The outrage at Buttigieg is misguided and opportunistic. Not only does it obscure the history of the rail industry spending heavily and working with some Republicans to roll back, stop or water down safety regulations, it also ignores the law: In a situation like this, the Transportation Department is not in charge. The EPA is on the front lines of the federal response. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is an independent agency, investigates the how and the why of the crash. The Transportation secretary has no role in the immediate response and cleanup efforts.”

Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg

From the Right

The right generally opposes the proposed law, arguing that it would not have prevented the accident.

The right generally opposes the proposed law, arguing that it would not have prevented the accident.

“Further investigation will shine a light on whether wayside-device regulations should change, whether railroads’ car-inspection standards are sufficient, and whether the decision to vent and burn the chemicals was the right one. It will not shine a light on whether the government should mandate paid sick leave for rail workers, protect union jobs from automation, or require expensive braking systems that make it more costly to transport fossil fuels…

“Pursuing expensive regulation in the name of ‘doing something’ could cause worse safety outcomes, a fact that Republicans should be prepared to explain. Every regulation that wouldn’t prevent this accident but nonetheless makes it more expensive to ship hazardous materials by rail is a regulation that increases the incentive to ship hazardous materials by truck, which is far more dangerous.”

The Editors, National Review

“[GOP Senators] Vance, Hawley, and Rubio are now joining with Democrats to expand Buttigieg’s power and make significant portions of his response to the recent East Palestine, Ohio, train crash into federal law…

Not one part of Buttigieg’s policy response would have prevented the accident in East Palestine. Parts of it, including the crew-size mandate, are sops to organized labor. Other parts, including the maximum fines, have nothing to do with the Ohio accident at all…

“The bill even goes further than what Buttigieg called for on the issue of railcar inspections… We do not yet have any evidence that insufficient time for railcar inspection contributed to the East Palestine crash, but we should get an answer to that question from the National Transportation Safety Board when it completes its investigation. Waiting for the NTSB report before making any statutory changes would be a wise idea regardless.”

Dominic Pino, National Review

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) writes, “East Palestine needs long-term investment, from both the federal government and Norfolk Southern Railway. Without special refinancing, homeowners will be underwater as flight from the community drives home prices lower, decimating the tax base on which local schools and public services rely…

“Farms will require direct support. Underfunded schools will need help. East Palestine will need its own version of the Paycheck Protection Program to protect workers and businesses who lost their livelihoods because of the decisions of others.”

J.D. Vance, Washington Post

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