New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a railroad safety bill into law this week, mandating that two-person train crews operate all hazardous materials trains throughout the state.
New York joins Ohio and Kansas as the third state in 2023 to adopt train crew safety standards in the aftermath of Norfolk Southern’s massive chemical spill and fire in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023. With New York, 11 states now have crew-size laws on the books: Kansas, Ohio, California, Wisconsin, Arizona, West Virginia, Minnesota, Washington, Nevada, and Colorado.
In an approval memo accompanying her signing of Senate Bill 5775, Governor Hochul said: “I support the goals of this legislation, which aims to protect the safety and well-being of rail workers and the surrounding communities… the horrific disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, highlighted the need for strong regulatory protections… federal action remains pending and state-level regulation is therefore necessary.”
Governor Hochul vetoed a similar two-person crew bill in 2022 due to concerns over federal preemption. She signed this version, however, after changes were made to specify that the law applies to freight trains carrying hazardous materials. “In doing so, we can protect New Yorkers from the most acute safety risks while recognizing the legal reality that state-level rail laws can only be more stringent than federal rules insofar as the state law is related solely to safety,” she said.
Led by New York State Legislative Board Chairman William J. Fleischmann and National Vice President James P. Louis, BLET members lobbied long and hard in support of the bill. In 2022, the BLET launched the Take Action legislative tool on the National Division website, which enabled countless New York-based BLET members to send letters to Governor Hochul voicing their support of the bill. Some BLET members also used the Take Action tool to document their own personal stories with Governor Hochul, sharing first-hand accounts about their work in the locomotive cab and the need for two-person train crews.
“Persistent lobbying from BLET members and our Brothers and Sisters in other Rail Labor unions helped to overcome fierce opposition from railroad corporate lobbyists,” BLET National President Eddie Hall said.
The law is expected to go into effect in early 2024.