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Secretary Buttigieg Visits East Palestine After Train Derailment, Calls on Rail Industry to Increase Safety Measures

On Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveled to East Palestine, Ohio to view the site of a train derailment that happened earlier this month.[0] The incident led to a spill of toxic chemicals into the community, prompting an evacuation of the village and some surrounding areas.

Buttigieg is meeting with community members, receiving an update from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, and hearing from Transportation Department investigators.[1] He is also accompanied by Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Amit Bose and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown.[2]

The derailment was the result of a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials, and Secretary Buttigieg is taking the opportunity to call out the rail industry’s resistance to increased safety measures. He has sent a letter to Norfolk Southern’s CEO demanding the railroad drop its opposition to a host of federal safety proposals, including allowing USDOT to give out stiffer penalties for rail safety regulations violations and reversing a delay to the rail industry’s deadline to use more robust rail cars carrying hazardous materials.[3]

Buttigieg is also urging Congress to raise the maximum amount the DOT can fine railroads for safety violations, which currently stands at just over $225,000.[4] He expressed his concern that the fines currently administered are so meager that the major railroad companies simply consider them as a cost of conducting business.[4]

In response to critics, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who have accused him of being “m.i.a. on the derailment” and urged Biden to fire him last week, Buttigieg scoffed at the charges, pointing to a 2021 letter pushing for more automated track inspections that was signed by Rubio and other GOP senators that, Buttigieg said, “was pretty obviously drafted by industry, calling on us to weaken our practices around track inspection.”[5]

The Secretary’s visit comes after the Trump administration rolled back several safety measures for railways, including regular safety audits and an Obama-era rule that required faster brakes on trains carrying flammable materials.[6]

Buttigieg is pushing for the reinstatement of a 2025 deadline for railroads to use safer tank cars, create new laws to encourage the use of better braking systems, and to limit the use of hazardous, flammable trains.

0. “Buttigieg visits site of East Palestine train derailment” Axios, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/02/23/buttigieg-visits-site-of-east-palestine-train-derailment

1. “Buttigieg visits East Palestine following train derailment and chemical spill” NBC News, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/buttigieg-visit-east-palestine-train-derailment-chemical-spill-rcna71867

2. “U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tours train derailment site in East Palestine” ABC6OnYourSide.com, 22 Feb. 2023, https://abc6onyourside.com/news/local/us-transportation-secretary-pete-buttigieg-to-visit-east-palestine-thursday-hazardous-train-derailment-national-transportation-safety-board-environmental-protection-agency-norfolk-southern

3. “Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg delivers remarks in East Palestine” WKBN.com, 22 Feb. 2023, https://www.wkbn.com/news/local-news/east-palestine-train-derailment/transportation-secretary-pete-buttigieg-coming-to-east-palestine/

4. “Buttigieg calls for stronger railroad safety rules after East Palestine disaster” MPR News, 21 Feb. 2023, https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/02/21/npr-buttigieg-railroad-safety-east-palestine-derailment-hazardous-chemicals

5. “Buttigieg world frustrated at GOP attacks over train wreck” POLITICO, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/02/23/train-derailment-ohio-buttigieg-00084111

6. “Buttigieg calls on Trump to back reversing deregulation in wake of train derailment” The Hill, 23 Feb. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/3871219-buttigieg-calls-on-trump-to-back-reversing-deregulation-in-wake-of-train-derailment/

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