The Department of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is being accused and defending itself in the aftermath of a major train derailment in Ohio that caused a fiery crash and the release of dangerous chemicals, and this is taking place several weeks later.
The question at hand is whether the work and safety protocols meet the required standards, and if the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, as well as other similar incidents that occurred this year, could be attributed to cost-cutting measures.
"Profit and expediency must never outweigh the safety of the American people," Buttigieg said in a statement issued Tuesday morning. "We at USDOT 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."
As part of the Department of Transportation's announcement, Buttigieg issued a statement that outlined a three-fold strategy aimed at ensuring accountability and enhancing safety within the freight rail industry. The proposed measures include the implementation of safer tank cars, the adoption of new inspection technologies, the provision of protection to employees who report unsafe working conditions, and legislative action to increase the severity of penalties for infractions.
In a letter addressed to the CEO of Norfolk Southern, the company responsible for the train derailment in Ohio, the secretary accused the industry of obstructing government efforts to enforce more stringent safety regulations.
"Rather than support these efforts to improve rail safety, Norfolk Southern and other rail companies spent millions of dollars in the courts and lobbying members of Congress to oppose common-sense safety regulations, stopping some entirely and reducing the scope of others," Buttigieg stated.
The Department of Transportation's statement was made just a few days after a group of Republican senators wrote a letter to Buttigieg, raising concerns about the staffing levels of the 150-car Norfolk Southern freight train and the possibility that the policies of the Biden administration may have played a role in the incident.
"Current and former rail workers, industry observers, and reform advocates have pointed to precision-scheduled railroading (PSR), by which rail companies such as Norfolk Southern increase efficiency and drive down costs by moving more freight with fewer workers, as a potential contributor to the accident," a letter from Sens. JD Vance (R-OH) and Marco Rubio, (R-FL) stated. "We have voiced concerns with PSR, as well as with this administration’s prioritizing of efficiency over resilience in its national infrastructure and transportation systems."
Rubio and Vance pointed out that the 150-car train involved in the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, was managed by a three-person crew consisting of a locomotive engineer, a conductor, and a trainee conductor. The security footage indicated that there were sparks or flames beneath at least one of the cars while the train was roughly 20 miles away from East Palestine, leading up to the derailment. The senators' letter suggests that a mechanical malfunction in one of the railcars may have been responsible for the accident.
The Republican senators raised doubts regarding the ability of a crew of two members and a trainee to manage a 150-car train, given that derailments and the frequency of safety incidents per track mile have allegedly surged in recent times.
Conversely, the proposed measures being advocated by the Department of Transportation do not necessitate an increase in the number of workers. The announcement references the Train Crew Staffing Rule, which the Biden administration supports, and which only mandates that most trains have a minimum of two crew members.
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