Virginia lawmakers rejected railroad safety bill before Ohio train derailment

One lawmaker calls Virginia’s railroad laws outdated
Virginia lawmakers shot down the bill aimed at increasing railroad safety regulations
Published: Feb. 24, 2023 at 5:25 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia lawmakers shot down the bill aimed at increasing railroad safety regulations, but one lawmaker said that needs to change, calling the states railroad laws outdated.

“Before the derailment in Ohio, I introduced a bill - the Railroad Safety and Security Act - because I was really concerned,” Del. Shelly Simonds, D-94th District, said.

Simonds said she wanted to take steps to protect people and the environment before that toxic train derailment in Ohio.

“We need to make sure the General Assembly is assertive in making sure that they’re operating safely, that these trains aren’t unwieldy, they’re not too long, and that they have the two-person crew in case of emergency,” Simonds said.

However, it was rejected in the GeneralAssembly before it could pick up steam.

“There’s just been a lot of resistance by the railroad companies to be regulated,” Simonds said.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the train in Ohio had 20 cars carrying hazardous flammable material, including vinyl chloride. Surveillance video from a neighbor shows a wheel bearing overheated ahead of the accident.

“We have had toxic train wrecks in Virginia in the past and we continue to worry about it because there are dangerous chemicals that are carried by the rails and that’s all the more reason why we need to regulate them,” Simonds said.

In a statement from Norfolk Southern in Richmond, a spokesperson said:

The safety of our employees and the communities in which we operate is our number one priority. We diligently monitor our trains and infrastructure to identify potential hazards, and we invest approximately a billion annually into maintaining our infrastructure every year. To prepare for the rare instance of a significant incident, we work with hundreds of first responders across our network every year, providing training through NS’s Operation Awareness & Response. This program is hosted on a train outfitted with railcars converted into classrooms, as well as traveling with retired tank cars, allowing local firefighters and other first responders to receive hands-on training in their own community. In fact, any department in any community can request a Norfolk Southern hazmat expert to come to their community for tabletop training.

As a common carrier, Norfolk Southern is required by law to carry a variety of materials used by businesses to manufacture goods. Much of that material is also transported by trucks on the highway, the main difference being that rail cars can hold a much larger volume. Rail cars are built, maintained, and inspected to standards set by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the Federal Railroad Administration. These standards are built on many years of research and continued refinement to railcar designs with safety in mind.

Incidents involving hazardous material spills are extremely rare, but we are prepared for them. Norfolk Southern has a team of regional hazardous material professionals and are backed up by specialized contractors that respond immediately to any incident. This is in addition to the annual training we conduct with first responders across our network, offered free of charge. The Association of American Railroads has additional insight here.

In a statement from CSX in Richmond, a spokesperson said:

The safety of our employees and the communities where we operate is the highest priority for CSX in delivering the essential goods used by American families every day. The transportation of all of our freight, including hazardous materials, is done in accordance with strict federal regulations and it is important that we are able to operate safely in order to carry out our common carrier obligations. CSX complies with Federal law concerning rail security and emergency preparedness, working with Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC), county and state Emergency Management agencies to ensure they have a comprehensive list of hazardous commodities transported in their communities, so first responders are prepared in the extremely rare case that a hazmat incident should occur. We work closely with first responders across our network and regulatory agencies to ensure proper planning and safety protocols are followed to protect our communities, employees, and customers.

According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) more than 99.9% of all hazmat moved by rail reaches its destination without a release caused by a train accident, making rail a responsible transportation choice. Since 2012, the hazmat accident rate has declined 55%, and over the past 10 years, less than 1% of all train accidents have resulted in a hazmat release. Railroad infrastructure maintenance is essential to reaching CSX’s goal of zero accidents and injuries and ensuring the continued reliability of the freight rail service, which is important to the economy. CSX invests more than $1 billion annually in infrastructure maintenance, upgrades and improvements to ensure the safe, reliable shipment of customer goods, and the safety of our employees and the communities where we operate. While no accident is acceptable, CSX has led the industry with the fewest FRA reportable train accidents and the lowest average FRA reportable injury rate since 2019.

Del. Simonds said she will reintroduce the bill again next session.