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Biden-Harris Administration Continues to Make Critical Progress on Rail Safety and Accountability

Friday, March 10, 2023

President Biden’s Budget released this week includes significant rail safety investments, and DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration announced a deep dive into Norfolk Southern’s safety practices 

Washington, DC -- As local, state, and federal environmental agencies continue to address air, water, and soil quality concerns on the ground in East Palestine, Ohio, the U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing major investments in rail safety and rail infrastructure, as well as highlighting continued work to hold Norfolk Southern accountable and make our railways safer. 
The President’s FY 2024 Budget announced this week calls for an investment of over $1 billion to expand DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration’s core safety efforts and improve critical rail infrastructure:

  • $273.5 million to support the agency’s railroad safety personnel, expand critical inspection and audit capabilities, enhance data analysis to better identify the root causes of railroad safety incidents, and increase stakeholder outreach and partnerships to address and eliminate threats to public safety. 
  • $760 million for both the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program and Railroad Crossing Elimination program to provide additional dedicated grant funding to improve nearly all facets of railroad safety, including upgrading track, rolling stock, and signal systems; supporting railroad employee safety training programs; and preventing railroad trespassing and highway-rail grade crossing collisions. 
  • $59 million for a cross-cutting Research & Development program to advance new technologies and practices to improve railroad safety.   

Additionally, DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration took multiple steps to hold Norfolk Southern accountable and make our railways safer:

  • This week the Federal Railroad Administration announced it is conducting a supplemental safety assessment of Norfolk Southern Railway following multiple safety incidents. The safety assessment will exceed the scope of existing FRA audits and take an expansive look at Norfolk Southern’s overall safety culture and operations. Information will be used to target specific areas for FRA’s oversight and enforcement efforts and identify risks beyond the reach of current federal regulations. FRA will use the information to push Norfolk Southern to develop measures to mitigate risks while identifying any appropriate enforcement actions. FRA will issue a public report with findings. 
    • Concurrently, the U.S. Department of Transportation is calling on Norfolk Southern to engage its employees and management around safety in order to protect workers and communities following Norfolk Southern incidents in Reed, PA, Bessemer, AL, Sandusky, OH, East Palestine, OH, Springfield, OH, and Cleveland, OH. Restoring public confidence, especially in the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates, requires action beyond the six-point safety plan the company announced March 6.
  • FRA issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require railroads to provide emergency escape breathing apparatus to train crews and other employees when transporting certain hazardous materials.

These announcements build on previous progress including:

  • Bipartisan legislation: The Senate proposal, endorsed by President Biden, includes provisions that Secretary Buttigieg called for as part of a three-part drive, like increasing fines on industry for safety violations, strengthening rules for trains carrying hazardous materials, increasing funding for hazmat training, accelerating the timeline to phase in more robust tank cars, and ensuring a two-person crew minimum on trains. 
  • Targeted Track Inspections: DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced targeted track inspections, focusing on routes that carry hazardous materials, that will start in East Palestine and expand nationwide. 
  • Rail Worker Whistleblower Program: After Secretary Buttigieg pressed them, all seven Class I freight railroads have agreed to participate in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) program for rail employees to help prevent safety issues. 
  • Meeting with labor leaders: USDOT leadership gathered leaders from unions representing tens of thousands of rail employees to hear safety concerns, both short- and long-term. USDOT's three-part approach includes a push to guarantee paid sick leave for all rail workers.
  • Safety Advisory for Tank Car Covers: DOT’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) acted on initial findings from the independent investigator (NTSB) into the Norfolk Southern derailment and issued a safety advisory notice for tank car covers. 
  • Safety Advisory for Hot Bearing Wayside Detectors: FRA urged railroads using hot bearing detectors (HBDs) to evaluate their inspection process, prioritize the proper training and qualification of personnel working with HBDs, and improve the safety culture of their organizations. 
  • Safety Advisory for Emergency Response Plans: PHMSA urged all railroad operators to create and maintain emergency response plans for the transport of hazardous materials, strengthen the accessibility of the AskRail system, and inform PHMSA when they identify responders who are not able to access PHMSA’s grant-funded training. The full advisory can be found here.
  • Investments in Rail Safety: In the first year of the bipartisan infrastructure law FRA invested over $370M in safety improvements to physical infrastructure including nearly $190M for upgrades to tracks. Later this year FRA will make awards for the new Railroad Crossing Elimination Program and the next round of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program.

Investigators from DOT’s FRA and PHMSA were on the ground within hours of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023. The agencies are supporting the investigation being led by the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency. For more on the federal response and jurisdiction, see here.

To get the latest information on the investigation, please visit NTSB’s website.