Bipartisan Railway Safety Bill Passes Cantwell-Led Commerce Committee in 16-11 Vote, Heads to Full Senate

Eight key provisions in bill will improve freight rail safety, help prevent future train derailment disasters like in East Palestine; Cantwell: “Not enough trains carrying hazardous material are treated with the care that they deserve”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during an executive session of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, bipartisan railway safety legislation supported by Committee Chair Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) passed in a 16-11 vote. The Railway Safety Act of 2023 now moves on to the full Senate for consideration.

During the executive session, Sen. Cantwell argued that train derailments like the February accident in East Palestine, OH, are preventable.

“We learned from [the] East Palestine derailment the improvement of detectors could help prevent these future derailments. This legislation requires, for the first time, railroads to use these defect detectors with more frequency, and makes it not just voluntary, but a requirement,” Sen. Cantwell said.

“We learned that not enough trains carrying hazardous material are treated with the care that they deserve. Under this legislation, more trains will be subject to the stringent safety requirements, including trains carrying vinyl chloride gas,” she continued. “That was one of the elements in the East Palestine derailment. In my home state, our communities are all too familiar with this issue. Derailments of trains operated by Class I railroads have doubled in the past 10 years. And this year alone, we've already seen one that leaked diesel into a sensitive ecosystem in Padilla Bay along the Swinomish tribal reservation. People should not have to worry about what's being transported through their communities.”

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 builds upon legislation introduced by Ohio and Pennsylvania Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), J.D. Vance (R-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and John Fetterman (D-PA), along with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) following the devastating train derailment in East Palestine, OH.

A list of eight key provisions included in the bill to enhance railway safety can be viewed HERE.

The legislation includes key provisions championed by Sen. Cantwell to support firefighters who bravely respond to disasters like the East Palestine derailment. It also reforms the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HMEP) programs to ensure fire departments can purchase personal protective gear and creates a new program to make fire departments whole after responding to a derailment.

In the State of Washington, 44 million tons of hazardous materials move to destinations in the state each year by rail. This includes four million gallons of crude oil, which are transported by train through the state each day. Many oil trains travel through cities, including Seattle, Pasco, and Bellingham. Over 75% of fire departments in the State of Washington are volunteer or mostly volunteer-run. Only 14% of fire departments in the state have a specialized hazardous materials team that could best respond to hazmat spills.

Sen. Cantwell has a history of past work to enhance safety regulations for railways. On February 17, Sen. Cantwell announced an investigation into railroads’ handling of hazardous materials, sending letters to seven top railroad CEOs seeking information about their safety practices. On March 22, Sen. Cantwell grilled Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw about the rail industry’s commitment to safety during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Video of Sen. Cantwell at today’s executive session can be found HERE; audio HERE; and a transcript HERE.