CLEVELAND, Ohio, March 20 — With the Norfolk Southern Rail Yard in Cleveland as a backdrop and leaders of the BLET by his side, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a news conference Monday calling for passage of the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023. The proposed legislation would set limits on train length, place restrictions on the weight of trains, set standards for railroad maintenance, track maintenance, wayside defect detectors, and would raise standards for tank cars carrying hazardous materials.
In his remarks, the senator emphasized the need for two-person train crews. “This is a worker issue, a community issue, a safety issue,” Senator Brown said. “Railroads, believe it or not, want only one engineer to run trains that are two and a half miles long with 250 cars. That makes no sense.”
The news conference wasn’t far from where a train conductor and BLET member, Louis Shuster, was struck and killed in a collision between a Norfolk Southern train and a dump truck on March 7. The loss of the union brother and local BLET leader was on everyone’s mind. “Railroaders in Ohio are terrified they will be a part of the next catastrophe, or even worse, won’t make it home to their families,” said BLET Ohio State Legislative Board Chairman John Esterly, who spoke at the news conference. In his remarks, Esterly went on to say that the railroad industry has turned its back on its safety partners, its employees and the communities it serves. He said the Railway Safety Act of 2023 would address many problems with common sense safety measures and said that the BLET is supporting its passage.
Passing the safety legislation won’t be quick or easy said Easterly. “The railroad industry has spent more than $650 million over the last 20 years attempting to stall legislation similar to the bill Senator Brown is co-sponsoring, and I want to thank Senators Brown and Vance for standing with railroaders on these critical safety measures by introducing this bipartisan legislation.”
Following the conclusion of the news conference, BLET National President Eddie Hall met with Senator Brown to discuss rail safety issues generally and specifically the union’s concerns about loopholes in the Railway Safety Act’s enforcement language regarding the use of two-person train crews.
Brown co-sponsored the bill with Senator J. D. Vance (R-OH). Other sponsors backing the bill include Robert Casey (D-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Fetterman (D-PA), and Josh Hawley (R-MO). The legislation was introduced shortly after the disastrous February 3 Norfolk Southern derailment, chemical spill and fire in East Palestine, Ohio.