Rail Workers Warn Safety Bill Loopholes Are Big Enough to ‘Run a Freight Train Through’

Rail Workers Warn Safety Bill Loopholes Are Big Enough to ‘Run a Freight Train Through’ 1

Yves here. Perhaps I don’t have the right media diet, but the East Palestine toxic explosion appears to have moved out of prime news coverage awfully quickly. And before you say it’s because the victims were poor whites, recall that lead-drinking Flint residents were overwhelmingly poor people of color…to eventually be insulted by clearly not poor President Obama. Admittedly, here we have a second disadvantaged group, rail workers, who are also being ignored.

That omission looks strategic, since as Lambert has explained long form, Precision Scheduled Railroading played an integral role in the derailment. Rail workers had just had the Biden Administration (with Congressional assistance) quash strike over Scheduled Railroading created workplace conditions. So conveniently, to the extent the press is covering why the accident occurred, it’s blaming brakes, which allows the blame cannons to be aimed at a Trump-era regulatory rollback…when brake theory fans concede having those regs in place would at best have reduced the severity of the crash.

Sadly, although this post has some useful updates in its opening section, it too repeats the canard that allows for Trump-bashing, as opposed to a more thorough look at the history of railroad de-regulation, that electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems were major culprits in the crash. Again, please read Lambert’s takedown to see why that just ain’t so.

Perhaps you can help by sending Lambert’s post to the Common Dreams author Brett Wilkins and encouraging him to get up to speed on why the train derailed and how that has implications for reform efforts.

By Brett Wilkins. Originally published at Common Dreams

Amid heightened national focus on railway safety in the wake of the East Palestine, Ohio disaster and other recent accidents, one railroad workers’ union warned Friday that, while welcome, a bipartisan rail safety bill has “loopholes big enough to operate a 7,000-foot train through.”

The Railway Safety Act of 2023—introduced earlier this week by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Fetterman(D-Pa.), and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)—is meant to “prevent future train disasters like the derailment that devastated East Palestine.”

The legislation would impose limits on freight train lengths—which in some cases currently exceed three miles. The measure was introduced a day after Democratic U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna(D-Calif.) and Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) put forth a billthat would require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to impose stricter regulations on trains carrying hazardous materials.

“We welcome greater federal oversight and a crackdown on railroads that seem all too willing to trade safety for higher profits,” Eddie Hall, national president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), said in a statement.

While BLET appreciates that Brown’s bill includes language stipulating that “no freight train may be operated without a two-person crew consisting of at least one appropriately qualified and certified conductor and one appropriately qualified and certified locomotive engineer,” the union warned of “significant” exceptions in the proposal. For example, the bill as currently written would only apply to operations on long-distance freight trains.

BLET said it “will seek changes to the wording of the two-person crew language to tighten the loopholes.”

“If the language is not precise, the Class 1 railroads will avoid the scope of the law without violating the law, yet again putting the safety of our members and American communities into harm’s way,” Hall argued. “You can run a freight train through the loopholes.”

In 2015, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration finalized a rule requiring the installation of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking systems on trains carrying hazardous materials.

Corporate lobbyists subsequently pressed the Obama administration to water down the rule, which was repealed entirely during the Trump administration’s regulatory rollback spree.

Current U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieghas not made reinstating the ECP rule a priority. Instead, DOT regulators are considering a proposal backed by the Association of American Railroads, an industry lobby group, that would reduce brake testing. Five major rail unions including BLET strongly oppose the proposal.

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