Railway Safety Act would help prevent dangerous derailments like in East Palestine, Ohio

The Texas Railroad Commission opposes common sense measure - valuing profit over people.

Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain
Toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio

One can imagine the fear and anxiety that transpired as a plume of smoke burst into the air, hazardous chemicals seeped into the soil, and a 50-car train derailed off the tracks. On February 3rd, East Palestine, Ohio experienced this terror as a train derailed carrying numerous hazardous materials. The community was evacuated due to the dangers introduced by the materials. The polluted soil, water, and air are affecting residents; many report experiencing bloody noses, headaches, dizziness, and nausea after the train derailment. After federal investigators concluded that the event was preventable, many citizens and lawmakers naturally looked to improve safety to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. 

It is relieving to see that the United States Congress is working to improve railroad safety after witnessing the Ohio train derailment. A bipartisan coalition of senators wrote the Railway Safety Act to improve safety regulations and inspections for trains that carry hazardous materials. The Federal Railroad Administration already requires trains with certain materials to comply with various regulations; this bill would expand the types of materials — such as vinyl chloride which caused the damage in Ohio, flammable gas, poisonous gas, and nuclear material — that must comply with the regulations in place as well as add more safety regulations. This bill could help prevent another Ohio catastrophe from occurring. Safety for people and the environment should be prioritized by lawmakers; drafting this bill conveys the value of American safety.

Despite the necessary precautions in this bill and its honorable intent, the Texas Railroad Commission (along with Senator Ted Cruz) are urging Congress to reject the bill. They argue that the added safety measures would increase costs on oil and gas companies. It’s true the bill requires railroad companies to add defect detectors to their trains and this is estimated to cost $2.1 billion in total. But as Houston Chronicle editorialized, “in a state that moves tens of millions of tons of freight by rail every year, and with freight volume expected to double in cities such as Houston by 2025, safety should be baked into the cost of doing business. Keeping our communities from being enveloped in black clouds or toxic tributaries of waste isn’t too much to ask.” 

The East Palestine spill had a direction connection to Texas – the toxic wastewater used to extinguish the fire in East Palestine was transported to Harris County, Texas to be disposed of. Texas Molecular, a hazardous waste disposal company, was tasked with the disposal of an estimated 2 million gallons of toxic wastewater. The capacity of the wastewater and the distance of the transportation — 1,300 miles — to Harris County from East Palestine raises concerns. After such a catastrophic event, it is worrisome to transport hazardous materials by railway and roadway. Texas produces the most oil and natural gas in the nation and is the leading state for petrochemicals and we transport and receive the greatest amount of hazardous materials. Thus, similar disposals and transportation of potentially harmful materials are expected to continue. To protect Texans from any issues with shipments from East Palestine and any future shipments of toxic materials, the Railway Safety Act must be passed. 


Caroline Gamble


Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation, renewable energy and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.

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