WASHINGTON — In light of the two recent train derailments in Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is calling attention to the freight lines in upstate New York and demanding answers and action from the companies that operate them.
In a virtual news conference Tuesday, Sen. Schumer said upstate New York hosts some of the most active freight rail lines in the country; the CSX line that follows the Erie Canal from the Hudson Valley to Buffalo, and the Norfolk Southern line that runs through the Southern Tier. Freight trains run through nearly every region of upstate New York, connecting the main trunk lines with communities north and south.
“From Buffalo to Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Watertown, Binghamton, in every community big and small we have rail lines going across us, and people are worried, as they should be,” Sen. Schumer said. “Upstate is a hub for freight rail activity, a real hub, and our tracks regularly carry trains with hazardous materials.”
The senator is sending a letter to Norfolk Southern, the operator of trains that derailed Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, and March 4 in Springfield, Ohio, along with CSX and other major national railway operators, demanding that these companies define the steps they are taking to improve safety and communicate better with their regulators.
“What the letter demands is that each railroad outline exactly what steps they’re going to take to prevent what happened in Ohio from occurring here in upstate New York, and explain how they’re improving with local governments and first responders,” he said.
Sen. Schumer said the rail companies need to start informing the communities they encounter about what they are carrying, so first responders can be aware as soon as possible if an accident occurs. He said he expects those first responders would keep the train contents a secret for security purposes.
“We don’t want to make public what cars have, which volatile materials, but local first responders, they will hold it close to the vest,” he said.
Sen. Schumer said upstate New York is not unfamiliar with train accidents either. In 2007, a CSX train derailed in Oneida County, just outside the city of Oneida. The train was carrying liquid propane and five cars exploded. It forced nearby residents to evacuate, shut down passenger service along the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited Line and shut down the New York State Thruway in the region.
In 2017, a CSX train derailed in Batavia during a windstorm, with a car of gunpowder in tow. In 2020, a train carrying petroleum derailed in East Aurora, Erie County.
“Thankfully, none of these turned into the scale of East Palestine, but with better safety measures, accidents like this could have been prevented,” Sen. Schumer said.
Sen. Schumer said he has a record of success on railway safety regulations, including the 2015 FAST Act that banned a dangerous kind of oil shipping container and updated braking requirements for hazardous trains. However, some of the rules of that legislation were rolled back under the administration of President Donald J. Trump, and Sen. Schumer said that needs to be corrected.
“As a result of the repeal of these rules, people are less safe, so I am fighting hard to get these rules reinstated,” he said. “We need to do a lot more to expand notification to our first responders and local governments to have everything they need to stay safe.”
Sen. Schumer also said he is working on passing a bipartisan safety bill, the Railway Safety Act, introduced by the Republican and Democratic senators from Pennsylvania and Ohio, which would strengthen safety requirements for rail freight traffic and require the implementation of more monitoring equipment.
“I’m going to everything I can to get that bill passed,” Sen. Schumer said. “Bottom line, we cannot have railroads keep first responders from getting the information they need, and so I’m demanding answers of the railroads and asking these companies to answer simple questions.”
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