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Biden Admin Mandates Two-Person Freight Crews, Enhancing Safety Post-East Palestine

Following the East Palestine derailment, the Biden administration enacts regulations requiring at least two crew members on freight trains, aiming to improve safety.

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Momen Zellmi
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Biden Admin Mandates Two-Person Freight Crews, Enhancing Safety Post-East Palestine

Biden Admin Mandates Two-Person Freight Crews, Enhancing Safety Post-East Palestine

One year after the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment created an environmental disaster, the Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled new regulations intended to shore up freight rail safety. A new rule finalized by the Federal Railroad Administration will require freight trains in the United States to operate with at least two crewmembers in most circumstances. "Common sense tells us that large freight trains, some of which can be over three miles long, should have at least two crew members on board, and now there's a federal regulation in place to ensure trains are safely staffed," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Tuesday.

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Regulation Rationale and Industry Response

The United States averages at least one train derailment every day. In 2023, there were seven rail-related employee deaths, said Buttigieg. He said the new rule will make railroads safer and prevent worker injuries and fatigue. Yet, the new rule stops short of the kind of rail safety updates that the Biden administration and members of Congress had originally envisioned as a response to the East Palestine disaster. The bill that received more lobbying activity than any other was the Railway Safety Act, highlighting the freight rail industry's influence in Washington.

Congressional Call to Action

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Buttigieg and union leaders pleaded for Congress to pass the Railway Safety Act Tuesday and give the federal government more targeted authority and money to enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials. "Legislating is your job. Please do your job or get out of the way and let somebody who's willing to step up and do the job do it," said Vince Verna, the vice president and national legislative representative at The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. This plea underscores the urgency and the need for legislative action to bolster rail safety further.

Looking Forward: Safety over Status Quo

The Transportation Department says the new regulation will close an existing loophole in the crew requirements by establishing standards and oversight processes that will force railroads to get prior approval before they can operate a one-crewman train. "With this rule, we will allow special approval if, and only if, a requesting railroad can demonstrate unequivocally that safety will not be compromised," Buttigieg emphasized. This marks a significant step towards prioritizing safety and accountability over the status quo, potentially setting a new standard for rail operations in the United States.

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