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U.S. Senate leader Schumer urges federal safety probe into all major freight railroads


U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to the news media after attending a closed Senate Democratic Caucus lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 2, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday urged the National Transportation Safety Board to launch an investigation into safety practices of all seven major freight railroads, following the East Palestine, Ohio derailment.

The companies, in addition to Norfolk Southern, are BNSF Railway, CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and Kansas City Southern, Schumer said in a letter to the agency.

Schumer said that over the past five years, these freight rail companies have had “over 26,500 accidents and incidents and 2,768 deaths, all while cutting roughly 20% of their workforce.”

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, resulting in the release of over 1 million gallons of harmful pollutants.

In a Senate speech on Wednesday, Schumer accused the seven freight carriers of a “dangerous industry-wide trend” that he said “puts profits over people’s safety.”

“Norfolk Southern isn’t the only rail company that has spent years lobbying to loosen regulations, neglect safety upgrades and lay off workers,” Schumer said.

The Democratic leader said a full-scale NTSB probe was needed to pinpoint populated areas where accidents have occurred, the amount of toxic chemicals that have been released from incidents and whether “severely degraded or poorly designed” tracks have been a contributing cause.

Last week, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testified to a Senate hearing and is set to appear at another March 22 rail safety Senate hearing.

He has apologized for the Ohio derailment and promised to improve his company’s safety practices, while also devoting resources to cleaning up the East Palestine site.

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