Front Page Talking Points


Ohio rail accident focuses bipartisan attention on rail safety reforms


1.gifShare two facts from an update on the derailment or freight rail safety.

2.gifLook for a quote from someone in your state about this topic and share it.

3.gifSummarize other transportation news from anywhere.

Toxic black smoke drifted away after a fiery Ohio rail accident early last month, but the impact is far from over. The wreck, which involved the derailment of 38 cars in a 150-car Norfolk Southern freight train taking chemicals and vinyl chloride gas from Illinois to Pennsylvania, quickly became a political issue. Some Republicans accused the Biden administration of minimizing the plight of a village with working-class voters – East Palestine, Ohio, with about 4,700 residents. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was criticized for failing to speak publicly about the derailment until 10 days after it happened and for visiting the site only belatedly. Donald Trump, the previous president, came Feb. 22 -- a day before the Cabinet secretary.

But Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, praises the federal response and said President Biden promised additional help. "I don't have complaints," he said recently. In Congress, which plans House and Senate hearings to assess environmental and safety issues, there is bipartisan cooperation to try to prevent similar events. Three Republican senators and three Democratic colleagues last week introduced a bill that would require stricter safety rules for hazardous trains and force railroads to notify communities about their cargo ahead of time. It would also beef up inspections, require minimum crew sizes and increase fines for violations. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, calls it "precisely the kind of proposal we need to see," and said he would help try to pass it.

Many of the proposals overlap with ideas pushed by the Transportation Department. Still, any congressional action faces likely resistance from the companies. "The industry has fought tooth and nail against safety regulations," says Sarah Feinberg, a former head of the Federal Railroad Administration under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Two federal lawsuits have been filed against Norfolk Southern. A class-action case accuses the Atlanta-based railroad of making the situation worse when 1.1 million pounds of vinyl chloride were dumped during the release. And two nearby residents want the firm to set up health monitoring and to pay for related care for residents within a 30-mile radius of the derailment on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

U.S. transportation secretary says: "I felt strongly about this and could have expressed that sooner." – Pete Buttigieg

Republican says: "We need Congressional inquiry and direct action from [Secretary Buttigieg] to address this tragedy." – Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

Journalist says: "The East Palestine, Ohio rail disaster is one of the most politically divisive topics this next year, filled with posturing and hyperbole." – Steve Clemons, Semafor newsletter

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.