WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will conduct safety assessments of all major U.S. railroads following the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern NSC.N operated train in Ohio, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reviews were sought by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. They will be similar to a recently completed review of Norfolk Southern’s safety culture practices and compliance after its train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, catching fire and releasing over a million gallons of hazardous materials and pollutants.
FRA Administrator Amit Bose told Schumer the agency in a previously unreported June 1 letter the agency will conduct assessments on each major railroad over the next year and it plans to release “an overarching final report assessing issues, trends, and commonalities across all railroads reviewed.”
Bose’s letter said each major railroad will be asked to “develop corrective actions in response to FRA’s recommendations, and FRA will track those to completion.”
Schumer’s office said the actions of the past few months “make it clear that the freight rail industry has perpetuated a culture of cost-cutting and shortcuts that has led to horrific damages in communities, injured workers, and even death.”
Schumer said the reports “will be a good first step to identifying the problems that persist in individual companies as well as what endemic problems permeate across the whole industry.”
The Association of American Railroads, a trade group, said “railroads safety culture is grounded in a commitment to continuous safety improvements, and FRA data continues to validate that rail remains a safe, responsible transportation solution.”
In March, the National Transportation Safety Board opened a special investigation into Norfolk Southern, urging the railroad to take immediate action to review and assess its safety practices.
NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy told Schumer in a previously unreported April 7 letter the board did not have the resources to expand its safety review to all major railroads saying it “would strain our already limited resources and delay completion of current investigations.”
Last month, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved rail safety legislation that tightens rules on trains carrying explosive substances.
Top photo: A BNSF railroad train hauling carloads of coal from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming is seen east of Hardin, Mont., on July 15, 2020.
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