Hawley, Vance, Brown, and Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Rail Safety

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) joined Senators JD Vance (R-Ohio), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) to introduce new legislation to improve the safety of the nation’s rail system following the train derailment that devastated the community in East Palestine, Ohio. The Railway Safety Act of 2023 would improve rail safety protocols, establish new safety requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials, mitigate derailment risk with rules for train weight and size, increase fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers, and more. 

“What happened in East Palestine was a horrific tragedy,” said Senator Hawley. “The safety regulations governing our nation’s railroads must be updated to ensure that a disaster like this never happens again.”

“Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again. We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind,” said Senator Vance. “Action to prevent future disasters is critical, but we must never lose sight of the needs of the Ohioans living in East Palestine and surrounding communities. One day, the TV cameras will leave, and the news cycle will move on, but the needs of those Ohioans will remain. I will never stop fighting to deliver the support they need.”

“It shouldn’t take a massive railroad disaster for elected officials to put partisanship aside and work together for the people we serve – not corporations like Norfolk Southern,” said Senator Brown. “Rail lobbyists have fought for years to protect their profits at the expense of communities like East Palestine and Steubenville and Sandusky. These commonsense bipartisan safety measures will finally hold big railroad companies accountable, make our railroads and the towns along them safer, and prevent future tragedies, so no community has to suffer like East Palestine again.”

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 would: 

  • Enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials by:
    • Including new safety requirements and procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials like vinyl chloride
    • Requiring rail carriers to provide advance notification and information to state emergency response officials about what they are transporting
    • Creating new requirements to prevent blocked railroad crossings
    • Mitigating derailment risk with rules for train size and weight
  • Reduce the risk of wheel bearing failures by:
    • Establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors
    • Requiring trains carrying hazardous materials to be scanned by hotbox detectors every 10 miles
    • Strengthening inspection requirements for rail cars of trains carrying hazardous materials
  • Require well-trained, two-person crews aboard every train
  • Force rail carriers to face heightened fines for wrongdoing by:
    • Substantially increasing the maximum fines USDOT can issue for safety violations
  • Support communities impacted by rail disasters by:
    • Expanding HAZMAT training grants for local law enforcement and first responders through increased registration fees paid by Class I railroads
  • Invest in future safety improvements by:
    • Providing $22,000,000 to the Federal Railroad Administration for research and development grants regarding wayside defect detectors and other rail priorities
    • Providing $5,000,000 to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for expenses related to developing stronger tank car safety features

Read full text of the bill here.