Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday called for several freight rail reforms in the aftermath of a train derailment in northeastern Ohio earlier this month that resulted in the release of toxic chemicals and temporarily forced the evacuation of thousands of residents.
Buttigieg urged Norfolk Southern, whose train was involved in the incident in East Palestine, and other freight rail companies to deploy new inspection technologies; phase in new, safer tank cars; and notify state emergency officials in advance if hazardous gas is being transported through their state.
The Department of Transportation will also begin a series of inspections of routes over which trains with large amount of hazardous material travel and advance a new rule requiring that at least two railroad staff be present for most operations.
“Profit and expediency must never outweigh the safety of the American people,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “We at [the Department of Transportation] are doing everything in our power to improve rail safety, and we insist that the rail industry do the same – while inviting Congress to work with us to raise the bar.”
Buttigieg urged Congress to increase the fines that the Transportation Department can levy against rail companies for safety violations, which currently sits at a little over $225,000.
“This is a rounding error for a company that reported an astonishing record annual operating income in 2022 of $4.8 billion,” the department said in a press release, referring to Norfolk Southern.
The Department of Transportation also revived demands for rail companies to provide their workers with paid sick leave, an issue at the center of talks last year between rail worker unions and management. After negotiations broke down and workers threatened to strike, Congress and the White House ultimately forced through an agreement without paid leave.