Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern (owner of the derailed train involved in February’s toxic chemical release) asserts East Palestine residents’ class action lawsuit is barred by US law.
It has been four months since a train derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, leading to the fire that created a toxic cloud of hazardous chemical byproducts from the materials] stored in four different chemical tank cars.
Now federal officials plan to conduct safety assessments of all major U.S. railroads.
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.”
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) opened a special investigation into Norfolk Southern in March.
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.
Presently, Norfolk Southern has asked a U.S. judge to toss a proposed class action lawsuit, arguing the claims being made in the case are barred by federal law.
The railroad company told a federal court in Youngstown, Ohio that the consolidated complaint filed last month on behalf of roughly 500,000 area residents, businesses and property owners relies on “vague and conclusory allegations” that it acted improperly, leading to the crash.
The company said it is required as a common carrier under U.S. law to transport hazardous materials like those that spilled and caught fire, including vinyl chloride.
It said the plaintiffs’ negligence, nuisance and strict liability claims are preempted by federal laws like the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act. Those laws “expansively” regulate railroad operations and bar those sorts of claims based in state law, Norfolk said.
Jayne Conroy, an attorney representing the plaintiffs with the law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy, on Monday called the motion to dismiss “routine” and said “we have every expectation that the motion will be denied in its entirety.”
The effects of the toxic chemical release also impacted neighboring areas in Pennsylvania. The state House has just passed a set of state-level rules for railroads.
The bill has a variety of safety measures, including a prohibition on trains more than 8,500 feet long, another that seeks to deter slowing-moving or stopped trains from blocking roads used by emergency vehicles for more than five minutes, and an order for a study of the transport of hazardous materials by railway in the state.
…“Extraordinary events bring extraordinary action,” said state Rep. Robert Matzie, D-Beaver, the prime sponsor of the bill. “How many East Palestines should we accept?”
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