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OPINION

The Truth About the Railway Safety Act

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar, File

Three months later, the 4,700 people of East Palestine, Ohio, continue to bravely deal with the fallout from the tragic Norfolk Southern train derailment. Over 1.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into the community, and the cleanup continues.

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Sadly, U.S. Senators such as Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are ignoring the people of East Palestine and are instead using this senseless tragedy as an opportunity to grant powerful unions their legislative wish list through the so-called "Railway Safety Act."

Under the guise of public safety, this bill sacrifices free market principles and innovation for the sake of regulation, with impractical requirements. For example, the bill requires railroads to go to personal inspection points and inspect each train car in the direction of travel, which would cause significant congestion and delays on the nation’s rail network. It would also require hiring new inspectors without being able to demonstrate a safety improvement.

The current inspection and maintenance system has worked well for many years. In fact, track-caused accidents are down 55 percent since 2000, and are at their lowest-ever rate across the entire industry. In fact, equipment-caused accidents are down 21 percent since 2000. The inspection requirements of the bill would only burden the railroad industry with unnecessary costs and cause more problems than they solve.

A one-size-fits-all performance standard for failed sensors is also problematic. These new rules would ignore the vast differences in Class I rail networks, geography, and operation. Different rail networks have unique needs and requirements, and a one-size-fits-all approach would not consider these differences.

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In addition, the bill's requirement to combine multiple regulatory frameworks into one system must be clarified to make enforcement more manageable. 

Moreover, the bill creates a huge loophole that grants vast powers to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to regulate the use of detectors. Buttigieg, who is eager to run for president again, is looking to make up for the Biden administration’s initial absence from East Palestine and is now ready to overregulate the rail industry, stifling innovation and improvements. Where was President Biden and Secretary Pete before tragedy struck East Palestine? Was Sleepy Joe and Mayor Pete asleep at the wheel, neglecting rail infrastructure investment when they were at the helm?

Equipping a two-person crew is also problematic. To begin with, the train that derailed in East Palestine had three people in the train cab, so a two-person crew requirement would not have prevented the accident. It also ignores decades of safe and successful use of the one-man crew in passenger and freight rail systems worldwide. One-person teams have been used successfully in Europe and Canada. In addition, a government mandate requiring a two-person crew weakens the rail industry's ability to compete with less climate-friendly modes of transport, such as trucks and air traffic. It also changes substantive collective bargaining by removing the opportunity for railroads to negotiate in good faith with their employees.

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The Railway Safety Act is a misguided bill. Its provisions should be less directive, based on reasonable, science-based safety principles to ensure derailments are minimized. As demonstrated, the freight rail industry has a strong safety record, and new federal regulations must be data-driven and targeted. We should strive to find practical solutions that prioritize both public safety and economic growth.

My prayers go to the community of East Palestine; all affected by this derailment deserve to be well compensated. It is time for Congress to quit the political opportunism and take a stand with the people of East Palestine.

 

 

Ken Blackwell is a Member of the Board of Directors of The Club for Growth and a former Treasurer of the State of Ohio.

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