How close are train tracks to your home? Your job? Your kid’s school? Tell your legislators to make these train bills better!

Seriously! The train that derailed in East Palestine wasn’t even considered a “high-hazard flammable train” (HHFT).

The Department of Transportation (DOT) applies stricter rules to high-hazard flammable trains – those carrying flammable liquids in at least (20) consecutive tank cars — or (35) cars total. They are limited to a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour, and must have newer ECP braking equipment and special cars when transporting hazardous materials across the country.

Update: Since the East Palestine derailment on Feb. 3, Norfolk Southern has had TWO more derailments.

  • March 4, 28 cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Springfield, Ohio.
  • March 9, 30 cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Calhoun County, Alabama. A worker died.

Before we get to the bills, please watch this short video about how a Wall Street system designed for maximum profit has made the America’s train industry so dangerous…

Action #1: Email/call your legislators. There are now two bills introduced in Congress to address train safety and neither is perfect.

The derailed train in East Palestine (we now have to define WHICH derailment) had only (11) tank cars, not (20), not (35). It also had (2) crew members and (1) trainee. But before the “100 percent preventable” accident, train workers had worried that the 9,300 feet long (that’s 1.7 miles!), 18,000 ton, 151-car train was too long and heavy to travel safely

  • H.R. 347 – DERAIL Act introduced by Chris Deluzio (D-PA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) would change the definition of what is considered a “high-hazard flammable train” to a single rail car and expand the stricter federal safety regulations to include Class 3 flammable liquid, and Class 2 flammable gases and gives the Secretary of Transportation the authority to add other materials as necessary for safety. This simple and all-encompassing bill would require many trains to upgrade their braking equipment. However, it doesn’t ban “bomb trains” transporting liquid natural gas (LNG).
    • Class 3 flammable liquids: gasoline, acetone, ethanol, xylene and many paints and solvents.
    • Class 2 flammable gases includes LPG, which could potentially create “bomb trains” and known carcinogen vinyl chloride, which is now distributed around the crash site in East Palestine. Neither vinyl chloride and LPG currently trigger “high-hazard flammable train” regulations.
  • The Railway Safety Act of 2023, was cosponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), J.D. Vance (R-OH), John Fetterman (D-PA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo). It’s “bipartisan”, so one must look at it carefully for undue corporate influence. The bill would create more stringent safety requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials, increase the frequency of rail car inspections and levy heightened fines for rail carriers’ wrongdoing – all good. However, its much advertised requirement that trained, two-person crews to work aboard such trains actually comes with a long list of exceptions we assume are the train operators’ return-on-investment in GOP legislators.
    • Its “Freight train crew size safety standards” exempts the following:
      • trains traveling on non-main line track Why?
      • trains traveling at 25 mph max Why?
      • trains traveling in areas with average track grade of less than 2% (East Palatine appears flat)
      • trains that don’t travel more than 30 miles Why?
      • trains with (1) person crews established at least 1-year before this bill The derailed train had crew of (2) workers and (1) trainee to watch over a train over 1.7 miles long. Before “Precision Scheduled Railroading,” crews use to have a minimum of six crew members.
      • and the bonkers exemption for corporations that log fewer than 400,000 total employee work hours annually and less than $40 million in annual revenue Seriously, why?!?
    • Its “Train ineligible for exceptionadds extra requirements only for
      • trains transporting (1) or more loaded cars carrying material toxic by inhalation but ignores inflammables and other chemicals,
      • trains over 7,500 feet, (the derailed train WAS 9300 ft. long.)
      • However, for most train transport – it reverts back to the DOT’s current minimum standards of (20) tank cars in a block/(35) tank cars total throughout the train. (the train that derailed had only (11) tank cars and did not qualify for DOT’s current enhanced standards.)

Minimal script: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want Rep./Sen. [___] to vote “YES” on H.R. 347 – DERAIL Act – with its expansion of the “high-hazard flammable train” definition and the chemicals regulated. I also want them to vote “YES” on the Railway Safety Act of 2023, with its increase crew size, inspections and fines, but only if it is revised:

  • Legislators must remove the arbitrary and economic exemptions provided for train operators under “Freight train crew size safety standards.” The recently derailed train HAD (2) workers and a trainee. It’s still not enough.
  • Also, “Trains Ineligible for Exemption” refers to the Transportation Departments minimums of 20/35 loaded tank cars. The East Palestine disaster involved only (11) tank cars.
  • Both bills must specifically BAN the rail transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and their potential to become catastrophicbomb trains.”
  • Both bills must add vinyl chloride to the HHFT classification system with enhanced safety requirements.
  • Both bills must make participation in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) mandatory.
  • Both bills must mandate sick days for railway employees.
  • Both bills must require modern ECP brakes on ALL freight trains and replace tank car aluminum valve covers with steel.
  • Both bills must require a study of Wall Street’s “Precision Scheduled Railroading” effects – long trains and small crews – and its effects on tracks, trains, crews, and surrounding areas, and incorporate appropriate changes.


  • Rep. Julia Brownley: email(CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
  • or Rep. Salud Carbajal: email.(CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
  • Senator Feinstein: email, DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430
  • and Senator Padilla: email, DC (202) 224-3553, LA (310) 231-4494, SAC (916) 448-2787, Fresno (559) 497-5109, SF (415) 981-9369, SD (619) 239-3884
  • Who is my representative/senator?:

Action #2: Write Pete Buttigieg at the Department of Transportation

Send to: and

Dear Pete,

There are at least two bills going through Congress right now in response to the East Palestine crash. We have no idea what they will finally contain, if and when they are passed.

Meanwhile, freight trains that are literally miles long roll through the heart of our cities. They wear down the tracks, block the passage of emergency vehicles for long periods and are barely supervised or inspected with skeleton crews, thanks to the cost-cutting of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

With or without the addition of hazardous materials, derailments are dangerous and destructive.These are the basic actions we need you to take to protect the lives and health of those who live near these tracks, whose homes, water, air or soil are endangered by train derailment and their spilled cargo.

For too long, we’ve allowed private companies making huge profits to create sacrifice zones of shrapnel, fire and invisible carcinogenic chemicals. It is possible, now that Norfolk Southern’s liabilities from the East Palestine crash have erased over $5 billion in market value, that these companies may be more amenable to upgrading safety measures to modern standards.

We ask you, as our Secretary of the Department of Transportation, to step up, no matter what happens in Congress, to see that the basic requirement listed here are covered.

Thank you.

Action #3: Become aware! How close do you, your friends and family live to tracks that transport hazardous materials?

Are you one of the 25 million Americans who live, work, or play in an oil train blast zone? Find out by entering your city or address into this database.

Deeper Dive

“Unfortunately, as you know, in too many cases, your goodness and perseverance were met with indifference and betrayal, in some cases. They were doing nothing for you. They were intending to do absolutely nothing for you.”

Donald Trump, talking nonsense at the site of the East Palestine train derailment.

The Obama administration had adopted a rule that required high-hazard flammable trains to upgrade their braking systems by 2023. The rule wouldn’t have directly applied to the train that derailed in East Palestine, but rail experts said the accident would have been less severe had the train had the upgraded brakes. In 2018, the Trump administration, at the urging of railroad and industry lobbyists, repealed it, after the Transportation Department officials reported that the costs outweighed the value of the mandate.

A story of cost vs. value

We will be watching to see how the “cost vs. value” calculations work out for Norfolk Southern, a company that made a record of over USD$12 billion in revenue last year, and recently announced a USD$10 million stock buyback program?

This recent derailment caused a fire and and spilled toxic chemicals into the environment and community of 4,000. Under the federal “Superfund” law, Norfolk Southern has been ordered to identify and clean contaminated soil and water and must reimburse the E.P.A., which has now assumed control of the long-term recovery effort, for the costs of cleaning private homes and businesses, according to the agency. Failure to do so will incur triple the costs of the E.P.A. efforts. Financial support to residents and local government from the company has already reached $5.6 million, not including the clean-up costs and nine class-action lawsuits could be just the beginning. Norfolk Southern’s share prices have fallen 11.3 percent on the stock market since the crash happened, erasing over $5 billion in market value.

Don’t shed too many tears. The company helped kill a federal safety rule aimed at upgrading the rail industry’s Civil War-era braking systems, according to documents reviewed by The Lever News..

Norfolk Southern paid executives millions and spent billions on stock buybacks — all while the company shed thousands of employees despite warnings that understaffing is intensifying safety risks. Norfolk Southern officials also fought off a shareholder initiative that could have required company executives to “assess, review, and mitigate risks of hazardous material transportation.

The sequence of events began a decade ago in the wake of a major uptick in derailments of trains carrying crude oil and hazardous chemicals, including a New Jersey train crash that leaked the same toxic chemical as in Ohio.

In response, the Obama administration in 2014 proposed improving safety regulations for trains carrying petroleum and other hazardous materials. However, after industry pressure, the final measure ended up narrowly focused on the transport of crude oil and exempting trains carrying many other combustible materials, including the chemical involved in this weekend’s disaster.”

Then came 2017: After rail industry donors delivered more than $6 million to GOP campaigns, the Trump administration — backed by rail lobbyists and Senate Republicans — rescinded part of that rule aimed at making better braking systems widespread on the nation’s rails.

Specifically, regulators killed provisions requiring rail cars carrying hazardous flammable materials to be equipped with electronic braking systems to stop trains more quickly than conventional air brakes. Norfolk Southern had previously touted the new technology — known as Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes — for its “potential to reduce train stopping distances by as much as 60 percent over conventional air brake systems…But the company’s lobby group nonetheless pressed for the rule’s repeal, telling regulators that it would “impose tremendous costs without providing offsetting safety benefits.””

A spokesperson for one advocacy group pressing for tougher safety regulations said the Ohio disaster is the latest consequence of the rail industry’s cost-cutting, profit-at-all cost business model.

“Prior to the stock buyback era, railroads agreed that ECP brakes were a good thing,” said Ron Kaminkow, a longtime railroad worker and organizer with Railroad Workers United. “The railroads hadn’t yet come to the realization that they could do whatever they wanted. ECP brakes were on the drawing board, then off.”

Comments Railway Age contributor and railroad economist Jim Blaze: “Regardless of what the rail freight folks do, better braking will show up on trucks. And if the rail economics changed one or two assumptions, the break-even numbers would have turned out better. Sadly, just one future incident in a very highly populated area would make this decision look very bad. But someone likely calculated such odds as very remote. Now they can keep their fingers crossed and hope the actuary assumptions were not wrong.

How pervasive are rail accidents?

About a 1000 a year, and there have been at least 20 significant ethanol or crude derailments since 2006, according to government data. This article describes 21 oil accidents that have happened since 2013 in North America, including the 2013 “bomb train” that exploded near the town center of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, destroying 40 buildings and 53 vehicles, and polluting the soil and nearby river.

The railroads will tell you that in the Precision Scheduled Railroading era, the overall number of rail accidents (typically derailments and collisions) has remained steady over the past decade, at about 1,000 per year. (excluding 2020 and after, when Covid reduced the number of freight shipments.) Derailments, though, increased, from 94 in 2013 to 136 in 2019. Remember too that during this period freight’s market share lost ground to trucking. The rate of total accidents or safety-related incidents per track mile rose a nontrivial 10 percent between 2013 and 2022. 

How pervasive are rail accidents at Norfolk Southern?

Total accidents or safety-related incidents rose on a per-track-mile basis (again, over the past decade) by 82 percent, at the same time there was a decrease in workers. In 2015, the year it adopted PSR, Norfolk Southern’s workforce shrank from about 30,000 to about 25,000 in 2019. Today Norfolk Southern’s workforce is about 19,000, or about one-third smaller than it was in 2013.

The East Palentine accident is at least their fourth freight derailment in the state over the last four months. In November, just days after 22 freight cars, some carrying rock salt, ran off the tracks in Ravenna Township, another train derailed in Steubenville, dumping trash into the Ohio River. Officials in Sandusky are still waiting on the company to complete cleanup of an October derailment that spilled paraffin wax and blocked an underpass.

What caused the East Palestine accident?

The derailment?: Railroad Workers United argues that Precision Scheduled Railroading, and the overworking, lay-offs and lack of safety measures that unionized workers were fighting for last year were a primary reason for the derailment. One of the causes of the derailment, RWU argues, is that a damaged car was allowed to leave a terminal due to cut inspection times and layoffs. The train was also not blocked properly, the group claims, because blocking a train properly takes longer and therefore has been mostly done away with by rail companies. 

The spill?: The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that investigators determined the aluminum covers over the pressure relief valves on three of the five tank cars carrying vinyl chloride melted and that some of the metal was found around the valves. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sent an urgent safety warning out to tank car owners Thursday saying they should check how many of their cars have aluminum covers over the valves like the ones that melted after the Ohio derailment. The agency said car owners should consider switching to steel covers, which is now the industry standard on new tank cars because steel is less likely to melt.

Why are sick days so important?

Precision Scheduled Railroading” has made the railroads very popular with Wall Street by shrinking work crews to the bone, while making trains ever longer. Paid sick days are not compatible with this business model, which has produced outsized profits. Over the past three decades, crews have decreased from a minimum of six people to a minimum of four to a minimum of two, even as the trains have gotten longer.   Industry experts and union officials say the companies no longer have enough workers to cover for absent colleagues.

The health of railway workers is uniquely endangered by the unpredictable scheduling requirements of their employers. Workers are also subject to a point scoring system and have reportedly lost points and faced penalties for calling out sick with COVID-19, suffering a heart attack, and getting into a severe car accident. Another employee lost points after missing work when his mother died. Even missing a phone call from the rail company results in point deductions. Once called, workers have ninety to one-hundred-and-twenty minutes to report to the station, depending on the time of day and geographic distance to the station.

With a combined $27 billion in net income, the railroads can afford to give their workers paid leave and hire more staff to ensure the stability of their operations. Tolerating such slack might well improve customer service by rendering the railroads more resilient against disruptions.

Notes on particular cargos:

Ethanol: Pure ethanol fires are initially invisible, until other materials are caught on fire, and cannot be put out with water. Instead they require a special type of firefighting foam, which isn’t always a quick fix, or accessible to rural fire departments. Accidents over bodies of water are especially damaging because ethanol changes the chemical balance of the water, unlike gasoline, which floats at the top. This is especially harmful to fish because when ethanol mixes with water, it starts a bacterial process that takes out the oxygen, which will make the fish suffocate.

LNG: The East Palestine crash has motivated seven members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation have urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to permanently ban shipments of liquefied natural gas by rail. The Quebec explosion was due to exploding cars of crude oil. Liquid natural gas is an exponentially larger threat – environmental groups estimate that just 22 railcars of LNG hold the same amount of energy as the Hiroshima bomb. The government previously prohibited transporting LNG by train, but in 2020, the Trump administration, in an effort to boost natural gas exports, gave the dangerous practice the green light. The administration also issued a special permit for a project that would transport LNG 200 miles between Pennsylvania and New Jersey through major cities like Philadelphia and Trenton.

Deeper dive on PSR:

How long can a train be? There are now 15,000 feet long trains going through city centers, blocking traffic and emergency vehicles.

Reversal of rail regulations were just the beginning for the Trump administration.

Trump made reversing or delaying safety rules for corporations a hallmark of his reign. These included rules for safety devices for cars, sounds for EVs to alert pedestrians and cyclists, annual inspections of commercial buses and other passenger carrying vehicles, safety requirements for oil and natural gas pipelines, and replacing a class system that required that pipeline operators upgrade pipes when population density had increased. Three days after Trump took office, he stopped a rule banning shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries on passenger planes. Six days after his inauguration, the rule requiring that trains have two crew members was sent back to Federal Railroad Administration.

Under his administration, the DOT withdrew an early-stage rule to require train engineers and commercial truck and bus drivers be screened for sleep apnea, blamed for at least 13 accidents, including three commuter rail crashes in New York and New Jersey since 2013 and a collision between a commercial bus and a tractor-trailer that killed 13 people and injured 31 others near Palm Springs, California, in 2016. The agency then repealed a 2015 rule requiring train cars that haul highly flammable crude oil be equipped with advanced braking systems that stop tank cars simultaneously, claiming, over the objection of union officials, that the rule’s safety benefits are marginal and didn’t justify the cost.

In 2020, Donald Trump’s Transportation Department authorized the future train transport of highly explosive LNG in so-called “bomb trains,” with a company lined up to start transporting fracked LNG from Pennsylvania to a proposed new export terminal on the Delaware River New Fortress Energy, is a subsidiary of the private equity firm Fortress Investment Group, which reportedly forgave a $130 million loan to the Trump’s business empire, the Trump Organization, prior to the permit’s approval. “Railroads have not yet begun transporting the gas, in part because the Trump rule mandated new tank cars that have not yet been manufactured. But at least one major railroad company told Biden regulators it planned to begin doing so by 2024. That company, CSX Transportation, also reported spending more than $1 million last year lobbying the federal government on issues including the transportation of LNG.

This doesn’t even count the environmental damage and long-term health damage Trump’s administration caused by kowtowing to the demands of Robert Murray, of the coal company Murray Energy. His executive order weakened Obama’s Clean Power Plan, ended a moratorium on new coal mine leasing on federal land; directed agencies to reconsider rules limiting emissions from hydraulic fracturing; killed guidance requiring climate change be considered in environmental reviews for infrastructure projects; and called for a re-calculating of the social cost of carbon, which puts a dollar value on what greenhouse gas emissions cost society


  • (Levernews) Where Is Buttigieg On The “Bomb Train” Threat?
  • (Levernews) Buttigieg Pretends He’s Powerless To Reduce Derailment Risks
  • (Inside Climate News) Lawmakers Urge Biden Administration to Permanently Ban Rail Shipments of Liquefied Natural Gas. Warning of the risk of an explosion and catastrophe along a densely populated route, congressional representatives from Pennsylvania ask a federal agency to finalize a rollback of a Trump-era rule.
  • (The Lever) Rail Companies Blocked Safety Rules Before Ohio Derailment
  • (US DOT) Confidential Close Call Reporting System – C3RS
  • (TNR) Here’s What Happens When Two Crew Members Are Operating 141 Freight Cars
  • (SMART) Editorial: ‘For rail safety’s sake: ECP brake technology a must’ by John Risch, Natl. Legislative Director, SMART TD
  • (Railway Age) USDOT repeals ECP brake rule
  • (Reuters) U.S. DOT drops requirement for braking system on crude rail cars
  • (Desmog) Bomb Trains: What Can We Learn From Shipping Ethanol to Improve Oil-By-Rail Safety?
  • (Sightline Institute) A TIMELINE OF OIL TRAIN DERAILMENTS IN PICTURES – Since 2013, North America has seen at least 21 oil train accidents—and counting
  • (Illinois Public Media) Ethanol Spills On The Rise In The Midwest
  • ( Protect Your Community from “Bomb Trains”
  • ( Do you live in an oil train blast zone? – Are you one of the 25 million Americans living in the oil train blast zone?
  • (Politico / Bloomberg / Associated Press / Politico / NBC News / CNN)

Quote from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, urging “urgent evacuation” on Feb. 5.

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