Schumer Calls For Rail Safety Improvements

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer holds up a 10-question letter he is sending to every major rail company operating in upstate New York and in the country.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said the derailment last month of a Norfolk Southern freight train in Ohio should be a “canary in a coal mine” for much-needed safety improvements and accountability.

The senior Democratic senator from New York on Tuesday detailed a 10-question letter he is sending to every major rail company operating in upstate New York and in the country. He noted the two major rail lines that operate in the state — CSX and Norfolk Southern, both of which run through Chautauqua County from the Pennsylvania border through the Dunkirk-Fredonia area and north toward Buffalo.

“What the letter demands is that each railroad outline exactly what steps they’re going to take to prevent what happened in Ohio from occurring here in upstate New York and explain how they’re improving communication with local governments and first responders to stop a whole bunch of terrible practices,” Schumer said.

His remarks to reporters come following the Feb. 3 derailment of 38 Norfolk Southern freight train cars in East Palestine, in northeast Ohio near Pennsylvania. Several of the train’s cars were carrying hazardous materials that burned, prompting an evacuation of about half the town’s roughly 5,000 residents.

There remains lingering worries among local residents of long-term health impacts.

On Saturday evening, about 20 cars of a Norfolk Southern cargo train derailed near Springfield, Ohio. A company spokesperson said there were no hazardous materials aboard the train, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

“The disaster in Ohio, frankly, should be a canary in a coal mine — a loud warning whistle,” Schumer said Tuesday. “I have sounded that warning for a long time, as you know, when we’ve had derailments and other problems with our rail lines upstate.”

Schumer noted that Norfolk Southern announced a new six-point plan to enhance the safety of its operations. As noted by the Associated Press, the proposed improvements include the use of detectors placed along railroad tracks to spot overheating bearings and other problems in response to the East Palestine accident.

“The people of upstate New York and our local leaders, our first responders, still have a lot of questions on the trains that run through their backyards every day,” Schumer said. “And I’m here to get answers.”

He is pushing for transparency from rail road companies and to “boost rail safety.” Specifically, the senator says first responders and local officials should be kept abreast of what trains are carrying.

To make his case, he alluded to the March 2007 train derailment in Oneida in which four cars were carrying liquefied petroleum gas; the March 2017 derailment of a CSX freight train in Batavia in which gun powder was being transported among other cargo; and the 2020 derailment in East Aurora.

“Now thankfully, none of these turned into the scale of East Palestine,” Schumer said, “but with better safety measures, accidents like this could have been prevented.”

Shortly after the derailment in Ohio, officials in Dunkirk and Fredonia discussed local preparedness in the event of a similar situation.

“In our district…we have train lines and the Thruway that run through,” Fredonia Mayor Douglas Essek said at a Village Board meeting. “Both carry the same hazardous materials that happened to be derailed there in Ohio.”

He continued, “I know on a local and a county level, we’re very well-prepared HAZMAT-wise.”

In Dunkirk, Common Councilman James Stoyle said city officials were updating plans for hazardous events.

“I want the public to know that the public safety committee, which consists of the Dunkirk Police Department, fire department, DPW and other management of this city, are working on a plan to update the plan from 2000,” he said. “When that comes out, if anybody wants to know about it, we’ll make it public.”

Schumer noted that rules requiring the installation of electronically controlled brakes designed to reduce the risk of train derailments were rolled back under former President Donald Trump. He is seeking to have the rules reinstated.

“But, as I’ve said many times, we need to do a lot more to expand notifications to our first responders and local governments to have everything they need to stay safe,” he said.

Among the questions he is posing to rail road companies:

¯ What notifications are provided to state and local responders, and what changes will the companies make in terms of notifications?

¯ How will companies ensure first responders have the “appropriate resources” to handle a derailment?

¯ How many rail car inspectors have been employed each year for the last 10 years?

¯ How do companies plan to keep railroads safe with less inspectors?


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