WASHINGTON, D.C. – In early February, a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed along the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. Nearby communities have been impacted by the derailment. While the cleanup continues there, other communities along our railways are growing concerned they too could be at risk of a similar derailment. We spoke exclusively with the Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on these issues.
The fiery Norfolk Southern train derailment in February caused chaos and concern in nearby Pennsylvania and Ohio communities. They were impacted by the toxins and chemicals from the train and a cleanup that continues to this day.
“I’m very sorry for what happened in East Palestine,” said CEO Alan Shaw at a Congressional hearing.
While Shaw has promised to clean up the mess, the crash left a huge gap in people’s trust and confidence in our railways.
“I’ve been keeping in touch with people I met on the ground in East Palestine,” said DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
In an exclusive interview with the DOT Secretary Buttigieg, he said the EPA is holding Norfolk Southern accountable for the cleanup and they’re also keeping a close watch on it, too.
“We’re also making sure that the lessons learned represent a change in the way that railroad industry is treated,” said Buttigieg.
Following the derailment, communities across the nation felt a growing unease about rail safety and worry what happened in East Palestine could happen in their hometown. We asked Buttigieg what the Department is doing to remedy that.
“We’ve taken a number of actions, including stepped up safety audits, focused inspections, research on safety technology and regulatory action to keep communities safe that live along railway lines,” said Buttigieg. “And I know how that feels because my own hometown had a lot of railway lines going through it, and it’s so important to make sure communities are protected. Now, there are a lot of measures that are part of why we’ve seen railway accidents down compared to decades ago, but there’s a long way to go.”
He’s now turning to congress, advocating for the Railway Safety Act. Buttigieg said the legislation would enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, support communities impacted by rail disasters and making rail carriers pay for their wrongdoing.
“I have said directly to the CEO of Norfolk Southern that they should be supporting this bill, not fighting it,” said Buttigieg. “But in any case, no matter what the industry does, this is good legislation and I’m hoping that Congress gets it to the president’s desk so that we can get to work executing on it.”
Buttigieg is also slamming the recent republican budget proposal saying it would slash railroad safety inspections.
“This is no time to be cutting back on safety inspections and I’m hoping that those House Republicans will reverse course and actually support us on the safety work,” said Buttigieg.
The bipartisan legislation would have an impact on rail safety across the US. Pennsylvania’s Senators are both cosponsoring that legislation.