Ohio lawmakers agree to rail safety rules after train derailment

Rail safety measures proposed after East Palestine train derailment set to become law in Ohio

BySAMANTHA HENDRICKSON Associated Press/Reporting for America

Columbus, Ohio — Rail safety measures proposed after the February train derailment and the burning of toxic chemicals in eastern Palestine are set to become law in Ohio, as part of a transportation budget nearly of $13.5 billion that was approved by the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.

A compromise budget plan that primarily funds bridge and highway work over the next two years has passed both Republican-led chambers with bipartisan support, sending it to GOP Gov. Mike DeWine for final approval. expected.

Nearly two months after a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed in a violent crash in eastern Ohio, lawmakers approved the plan which includes several rail safety provisions. Among them, it would mandate a two-person crew for freight trains; require personnel who receive messages about defects detected by a railway’s wayside detection system to immediately notify a railway operator; and directing the Ohio Public Utilities Commission and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to submit written reports to the Legislature regarding the transportation of hazardous materials and waste.

The safety proposals also include a requirement that roadside detectors used to help detect problems be installed 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 kilometers) away, under the supervision of the Department of Transportation. ‘Ohio and the Public Utilities Commission. Currently, the Federal Railroad Administration allows certain wayside detectors to be spaced up to 25 miles (40 kilometers).

The Public Utilities Committee is also expected to examine different types of train detectors and cameras and submit its findings to the General Assembly.

Whether the Legislative Assembly has the authority to impose these provisions on the rail industry has been debated during the budget process. The Ohio Railroad Association argued that several of the measures are preempted by federal law. State lawmakers disagreed, saying the General Assembly could put in place statewide safeguards to help protect its voters.

Republican Senator Matt Huffman said the legislature had worked with legal experts and believed the provisions were not preempted, but if challenges arise, it may be up to the federal courts to decide.

The budget also incorporates reduced registration fees for plug-in hybrid vehicles, reducing the annual cost by $200 to $150.

A $1 billion fund for rural highways that had been included in the version of the House budget was deleted in the compromise with the Senate, although the chairman of the House finance committee, the representative of the GOP, Jay Edwards, said funding would be provided through the core operating budget. that lawmakers must resolve in the next three months.

The transport budget also raises the threshold for the amount of money a local government can spend on projects such as repairing bridges by its own public workforce before having to offer them to private contractors. The existing limits had been criticized as outdated and unnecessary barriers to completing projects that the local workforce was otherwise equipped to handle.


Samantha Hendrickson is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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