The Lead

After latest Norfolk Southern derailment, W. Pa lawmakers call for rail accountability

By: - April 11, 2023 2:30 pm

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District, speaks during a news conference as state Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny (R) looks on (Office of U.S. Rep. Summer Lee).

(*This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18, 2023 to correct the name of the Moms Clean Air Force)

PITTSBURGH – After a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Pittsburgh on Saturday, lawmakers and local environmental activists are calling for more accountability from railroads, and protection from so-called “bomb trains” that carry hazardous materials through populated areas. 

“We stand together in solidarity today to call for stronger safety regulations for bomb trains because for too long CEOs of rail giants have put profits over people, selfishness over safety and their own bonuses over reliable braking systems,” U.S. Rep Summer Lee, D-12th District, said during a Tuesday press conference. “Because when greedy corporations are allowed and encouraged to poison our communities for profit, we all suffer.” 

Lee was joined by representatives of Conservation Voters of PA, Climate Power, Moms Clean Air Force, PennEnvironment, and Group Against Smog & Pollution (GASP), as well as state Sen. Lindsey Williams and Rep. Sara Innamorato, both Allegheny County Democrats. 

The press conference was held at the Kingsley Association Center in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, a few hundred feet away from the tracks where the Saturday derailment occurred. 

The five-car train in that incident was empty, and there were no injuries reported, and no hazardous material leaks, according to Pittsburgh Police. 

But pointing to the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, Lee and the other western Pennsylvania lawmakers said it was too close for comfort: If Saturday’s train had carried hazardous chemicals, the impact could have been catastrophic.

“I thank god that this time, there were no injuries or safety hazards, but with 1,700 derailments each year and rising over 27% in the past decade, we cannot afford to leave preventing such a safety crisis up to chance,” Lee said. “Rail workers warned this would happen. That’s one of the reasons they went on strike. But instead of making trains safer, Norfolk Southern did $10 billion in stock buybacks, silenced whistleblowers, and laid off almost a third of their workers.”

Lee is an original cosponsor of the DERAIL Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Chris Deluzio D-17th District, that would add stricter regulations for trains carrying hazardous materials, such as the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio in February. “We can’t trust the railroad to regulate itself and you cannot compromise on anything,” Lee said. 

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly