Feb. 19 (Reuters) – US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Sunday he would urge major railroads to improve safety following the Feb. 3 derailment of a train operated by Norfolk Southern (NSC. N).
Buttigieg in a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said he would also urge Congress to raise the cap on fines against railroads for violating safety rules “to ensure their deterrent effect is commensurate with the scale economics of today’s large railway companies”.
Buttigieg said he would soon outline specific safety improvements that railroads should adopt immediately. He sharply criticized them for lobbying against measures “intended to improve railroad safety and help keep Americans safe.”
“Major derailments in the past have been followed by calls for reform and vigorous resistance from your industry to increased safety measures. This needs to change,” Buttigieg wrote.
Buttigieg faced sharp criticism from many Republicans in Congress for his response to the toxic chemical train derailment that started a fire and sent a cloud of smoke over the city that forced thousands of residents to evacuate as staff railway has dried up and burned. chemical substances.
No deaths or injuries were reported, but residents have demanded answers about potential health risks.
Buttigieg’s letter emphasized “the urgent need for Norfolk Southern to demonstrate unequivocal support for the people of eastern Palestine and surrounding areas.”
Norfolk Southern said it “received a copy of the letter from the secretary on Sunday and is looking into it.” Shaw said the railroad established an initial $1 million community support fund last week and distributed $1.7 million in direct financial assistance to more than 1,100 families and businesses to cover evacuation costs.
“We will not let you down,” he told residents in a letter.
Buttigieg’s letter said that in response to many derailments, two US agencies had finalized rules on high-risk flammable trains and electronically controlled pneumatic braking (ECP).
“Rather than support these efforts to improve railroad safety, Norfolk Southern and other railroad companies have spent millions of dollars in the courts and lobbying members of Congress to oppose common-sense safety regulations, halting some entirely and reducing the scope of others,” Buttigieg wrote. .
“As a result, Congress enacted language that undermined USDOT’s ability to uphold ECP brake requirements, and they were ultimately withdrawn under the Trump administration.”
Buttigieg said he also planned to outline “planned priority actions” from the US Department of Transportation on railroad safety.
In response to the derailment, US Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell on Friday opened an inquiry into hazardous materials safety practices on railroads.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said Friday it plans to hold a hearing on the derailment.
In a letter to Shaw and the CEOs of major railroad companies, Cantwell said that “every railroad must review its hazmat safety practices to better protect its employees, the environment and American families and reassert safety as a top priority”.
Companies included Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRKa.N) Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), Canadian National (CNR.TO), Canadian Pacific (CP.TO), CSX (CSX.O), Kansas City Southern, and Union Pacific (UNP. N).
A group representing major railroads said last week that 99.9% of all hazmat shipments reach their destination without incident, and the rate of hazmat accidents has dropped by 55% since 2012.
Reporting by David Shepardson in Franconia, New Hampshire; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Richard Chang and Diane Craft
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