A pair of House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a bill that would tighten regulations for trains with hazardous materials, a direct response to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this month that spilled chemicals into the area.
The Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accident Instances Locally (DERAIL) Act — introduced by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) — would direct the Transportation secretary to amend the definition of a “high-hazard flammable train” to increase the number of trains subject to stricter regulations. Those regulations include slower speeds, newer cars, better breaking equipment and required reporting.
“For too long, railroads have prioritized profit ahead of public safety and their workers, and it is time to regulate the railroads. This legislation is an important step forward to finally strengthen our rail regulations and improve rail safety in communities like Western Pennsylvania and across America,” Deluzio wrote in a statement.
According to the Transportation Department, a “high-hazard flammable train” is currently defined as “a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through a train.”
The legislation introduced on Tuesday would modify that language to lower the threshold to trains transporting one or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid or a Class 2 flammable gas. It also allows the Transportation secretary to add other materials to the definition that they determine is needed to ensure safety.
The train that derailed in East Palestine included 11 tank cars that held hazardous materials that were ultimately ignited, which led to fires, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Despite the materials on board, the train was not considered a “high-hazard flammable train” under the current definition, according to Khanna and Deluzio, exempting it from stricter safety regulations.
“The people in East Palestine and western Pennsylvania are the working-class folks who feel invisible and abandoned by our nation,” Khanna said in a statement. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to expand our safety regulations and help prevent against this type of disaster in the future. This is a moment where we need political leaders from all parties and from across the country to speak out loudly for better safety regulations and to acknowledge what so many Americans are going through.”
In addition to introducing legislation, Congress is preparing hearings and investigations into the train derailment.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Materials is holding a hearing on March 28 on the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the derailment, according to subcommittee chair Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), whose district includes East Palestine.
And last week, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, launched an investigation into Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s response to the derailment. He sent a letter to Buttigieg requesting documents and information regarding the department’s response to the incident.