PA House Passes Bill to Boost Rail Safety

Harrisburg, CapitolCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

PENNSYLVANIA — Pennsylvania is on track for improved rail safety after the PA House yesterday voted to pass legislation by Beaver County state Reps. Rob Matzie and Jim Marshall that would strengthen state standards for freight trains and add reporting requirements for the transport of hazardous materials.

The lawmakers said they introduced H.B. 1028 – which passed by a vote of 141-62 – to supplement existing federal rail safety standards they say are insufficient to prevent the risk of derailments along heavily traveled Pennsylvania routes.

“There may be equals, but there has been no bigger supporter of freight rail in the legislature during my tenure than me,” said Matzie, who is majority chair of the PA House Consumer Protection, Technology, and Utilities Committee. “The intention is not to hurt railroads, but to enhance and strengthen rail safety for the public, the workforce and emergency responders.

“We can’t wait for Washington D.C. to act. We have the right to implement laws for rail safety in Pennsylvania, and that’s exactly what this bill does. Extraordinary events bring about extraordinary action. This bill lets the public know we hear them, and we are responding.

“The ball is now in the Senate’s court.”

Marshall, Republican committee chair, said, “I’m a strong proponent of rail freight and passenger service and I expect our railroads to prioritize the safety of both the public and their workforce. This legislation will help ensure that these expectations are met.”

Among other things, the bill would:

  • Establish new staffing and train length requirements – including, among other things, a minimum two-man crew and a maximum train length of 8,500 feet (approximately 1.6 miles) – to be enforced by the state Public Utility Commission.
  • Require PUC, working with PennDOT, to develop standards for reporting and tracking the transport of hazardous materials, including maintaining a database to be accessed by FEMA, PEMA and county emergency response agencies in the event of a derailment.
  • Require PUC and PennDOT to ensure proper functioning of wayside detectors – trackside sensors intended to warn when train cars are overheating because of problems that can cause derailment.
  • Limit the length of time trains may be parked in an area where they block road crossings needed for access by emergency response vehicles.
  • Allow a union representative to be present for rail safety inspections without being accused of trespassing.
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The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

In 2022, there were more than 1,000 train derailments in the United States.

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