Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is urging the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to expand its investigation into Norfolk Southern to include other major railroads to determine ways to improve rail safety in the aftermath of the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, last month.
Schumer said in a letter to NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, first reported by Politico Playbook, that the agency should expand its investigation to include all Class I freight railroads, which are those that have the largest operating revenues in the country. The railroads include BNSF Railway, CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern.
Schumer said a “troubling and fatal” combination of regulations being rolled back, more than 26,500 rail accidents and incidents happening nationwide in the past five years and more than 30,000 employees losing their jobs necessitates a “full and comprehensive investigation.”
“As we have seen firsthand, the freight rail industry has time and time again dangerously played fast and loose with the regulations while endangering millions of Americans throughout the country,” he said.
Schumer’s call comes in the aftermath of the Norfolk Southern derailment early in February that allowed toxic chemicals to escape into the atmosphere. Thousands of residents of East Palestine, not far from Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania, were forced to evacuate for about five days.
Although state officials eventually allowed for residents to return and assured them that the air and water were safe, some residents reported having difficulty breathing and symptoms like rashes since coming back.
A preliminary NTSB report released late last month stated that a wheel bearing on the Norfolk Southern train was in late-stage overheat failure before the accident, and the brakes were unable to stop the train.
East Palestine residents have filed a class action suit against the company, and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against it on Tuesday, arguing that the derailment was avoidable.
Schumer said Homendy should consider questions like what common occurrences among accidents are, how deregulatory pushes have contributed to derailments and deaths and to what extent are companies following or ignoring safety protocols for their workers.
He said freight trains often carry toxic materials, but the public and especially first responders do not have many ways to know what companies are doing to transport the materials safely.
He noted that the East Palestine derailment was not the only dangerous incident for Norfolk Southern and two other accidents have happened since then just in Ohio itself.