Schumer: railroad companies should notify emergency response crews when carrying hazardous materials
Following recent train derailments in Ohio, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for increased transparency.
The Senate Majority Leader stood near the Syracuse Armory Square freight rail tracks Monday and called for improved rail safety for Syracuse and upstate New York.
"The tracks behind me regularly carry trains with hazardous material," the majority leader said. "The disaster in Ohio should be a canary in the coal mine — a loud warning whistle that I've been sounding for a long time here in central New York on dangerous railroad safety hazards, which demand immediate action."
Schumer launched a two-track plan demanding answers from the major rail companies operating in upstate New York on what steps they are taking to prevent disasters like those in Ohio and announcing his support for the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023.
"This bill will make common sense safety reforms, help increase communication and provide an additional support for our first responders and also makes the railroads pay for their wrongdoing," Schumer said.
That bill would require rail carriers to provide advance notification and information on what they're transporting and require at least two-person crews to work aboard every train. The bill also would make rail carriers pay for their wrongdoing and would require a $1 million annual fee on railroads to pay for training and local emergency responders.
Syracuse Fire Chief Michael Monds said because Syracuse is home to one of the five major freight rail facilities in the state, there are potentials for large amounts of hazardous material every day.
"Efforts by our elected officials to provide more transparent information regarding the transportation of hazardous materials in our community will undoubtedly result in a safer region, state and nation for our citizens and our first responders alike," Monds said.
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said he supports Schumer's efforts especially as the trains go by key pieces of infrastructure in the community every day.
"We don't know what's on these trains," McMahon said. "Let alone the accountability, the transparency, the accountability if something were to go wrong, but also the way that these railroads often interact with the community is problematic and we don't see enough partnership there."
The CEO of Norfolk Southern is set to testify Thursday before the Transportation Committee with Schumer saying he wants to hear what they're doing to protect upstate New Yorkers.
As for whether he believes there will be difficulty getting the Railway Safety Act through the U.S. House of Representatives?
"You never know, you've got to keep pushing," Schumer said. "The railroad industry has a lot of clout and a lot of power, but America's been alerted. What's happened in East Palestine has been on the front pages for weeks and I think it really is making a difference. That's why the rail industry is being more responsive now than they've been in a while, but as we learned with the oil cars, you got to keep pushing and pushing and pushing."