WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) kicked off an investigative hearing on the East Palestine train derailment. While an initial report from the NTSB was released after the February derailment, these hearings are to better determine what went wrong and what changes need to be made. As these hearings were happening, we spoke exclusively with the Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on rail safety.
“These hearings are very important they can get technical, but they are a key part in how NTSB gathers the information that will allow for recommendations that can shape and change policy,” said DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg said after the derailment, the DOT took a number of steps to improve rail safety, like executing nearly four-thousand rail inspections across the country and investing more than 500-million from the bipartisan infrastructure law to improve hundreds of at-grade crossings. But that’s not all that they’re doing.
“The latest news we’re making this week is a proposed rule that would create requirements for getting first responders information proactively when a railroad is moving hazardous material and there’s an incident,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “The basic idea here is that it can take time in those emergency response contacts where every minute matters. It can take time to track down the personnel on the train to figure out what was where what was in what tank car we want to make sure the railroads make that a requirement to push that information proactively to first responders, firefighters, others who are gonna be involved in the response so they know immediately what it is they’re dealing with.”
Buttigieg said they are looking to increase training for first responders, modernize rail systems and hold rail companies accountable.
“We’ve been pushing Norfolk Southern and other railroad companies to step up and do the right thing,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “They’ve done some of the things like the closed call reporting that would help whistleblowers identify safety issues. But frankly, you can’t expect multibillion dollar corporations to do all these things voluntarily. There has to be requirements and those requirements have to be backed up with real enforceability.”
To give the Department more teeth when it comes to enforceability, Buttigieg is advocating for more rail safety legislation. There’s a Senate bill he believes will help do just that.
After the NTSB wraps up their hearings, it could take anywhere between a year to a year-and-a-half before their final report is released.