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Transportation Department: GOP proposal would 'make our railways drastically less safe'

President Joe Biden’s proposed budget calls for increased funding for rail safety, but the House Freedom Caucus’ proposal would cut funding.

By Oliver Willis - April 11, 2023
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A resident displays a mannequin on their porch in East Palestine, Ohio, as cleanup from the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment continues, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023.
A resident displays a mannequin on their porch in East Palestine, Ohio, as cleanup from the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment continues, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

The Department of Transportation warned on April 7 that a budget proposal offered by Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus would cause a significant decrease in safety across the national rail network just as safety concerns have risen following recent train derailments in Ohio and North Dakota.

The caucus is a group of 45 conservative Republicans led by chair Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and vice chairman Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. On March 10, the Freedom Caucus proposed freezing federal nondefense spending in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling.

In a press release on ongoing efforts to respond to the trail derailments, the Transportation Department said that if enacted, the budget would not give it access to the resources needed to address safety concerns: “The President’s FY 2024 Budget calls for an investment of more than $1 billion to expand USDOT’s core rail safety efforts and improve critical infrastructure. … The President’s FY 2024 budget is notably different from the deeply concerning budget proposal from the House Freedom Caucus, which would cut rail safety funding, decrease rail safety inspections, and make our railways drastically less safe both for workers and communities across the country.”

President Joe Biden released a proposed budget on March 9 and has asked for over $1 billion more in spending on rail safety. Among those increases are $273.5 million to support railroad safety personnel and to increase safety inspections and audits.

The White House said in an analysis of the Freedom Caucus proposal issued on March 20 that failure to increase funding would result in 11,000 fewer rail safety inspection days in 2024 and 30,000 fewer miles of track inspected over the course of the year.

The recent train derailments have brought increased scrutiny of the safety of freight and passenger rail systems.

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern Railway train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. On Feb. 5, residents of the area were told to evacuate after officials decided to burn the toxic chemicals that were being transported in several of the train’s cars. The evacuation order was lifted on Feb. 8.

The Biden administration oversaw a multi-agency response to the derailment involving the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On March 26, less than two months later, a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailed in North Dakota and spilled petroleum.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration released a safety advisory on April 7 telling rail operators to “exercise due diligence and recognize the importance of taking proactive measures to address potential safety risks related to operating train builds with varying configurations, load and empty placement, distributed power arrangements, and other factors.”

In his first year in office, the administration of former President Donald Trump scaled back multiple railroad safety rules and regulations. Among these were rules that required train operators to use an advanced braking system while transporting flammable chemicals and regulations that would have screened engineers for sleep disorders.

The Biden administration has not publicly committed to reinstating those policies. The New Republic reported in February that White House officials fear pushback from the railroad industry and Congress against any attempts to do so and say Congress should address the issue through legislation.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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