“The United States Senate owes its constituents the peace of mind that a tragedy like this will not strike in their hometowns. Don’t side with the powerful special interest groups of the Washington Swamp — do what’s best for your own people.”
An Op-Ed Published In The Washington Examiner
By Mayor Trent Conaway | November 3, 2023
In the dark of night this February, a wheel bearing aboard a Norfolk Southern train catastrophically failed. Dozens of rail cars transporting hazardous materials launched off the tracks and caught fire in the middle of East Palestine, Ohio. The world saw what happened next.
The people of East Palestine are resilient — we will recover. But it is undeniable that this disaster has changed our town forever.
If the lessons from the derailment in East Palestine are going to save the next small town from a similar disaster — which they should — we need our representatives in Congress to take a stand.
The Railway Safety Act, written by Ohio Sens. JD Vance (R) and Sherrod Brown (D), will take steps to reduce the same safety failures that led to this derailment. The bill would expand the use of wayside defect detectors, strengthen railcar inspection standards, and ensure trains carrying hazardous chemicals are treated with special care under the law. These are all reasonable policies that will make a real difference and could have even prevented the disaster in East Palestine.
There is also an often-forgotten detail about the response following the derailment. When East Palestine’s all-volunteer fire department charged toward the burning rail cars to protect their community, they did so without warning about the chemicals to which they were exposing themselves.
As a former firefighter, I cannot overstate how important it is for first responders to know what chemicals they’re dealing with at the site of a disaster. The Railway Safety Act rights this wrong and will require railroads to provide proper warning to local leaders and first responders if hazardous chemicals are traveling through their communities.
At a time when most things separate us into partisan corners, the Railway Safety Act has gained an impressively bipartisan coalition of supporters. Former President Donald Trump, who visited East Palestine shortly after the derailment, has offered his full-throated support. So has President Joe Biden, along with a wide range of senators on the Left and Right. These folks don’t agree on much, but they agree on this.
In my mind, there is no reasonable excuse for a lawmaker to oppose this commonsense legislation.
Every day since the derailment, I have seen firsthand how my friends and neighbors have had their lives upended by this accident. I have visited the small businesses that are still struggling to get by. I have watched as truck after truck after truck of contaminated soil and water is dug out and hauled away.
The United States Senate owes its constituents the peace of mind that a tragedy like this will not strike in their hometowns. Don’t side with the powerful special interest groups of the Washington Swamp — do what’s best for your own people.
The passage of the Railway Safety Act will not mark the end of East Palestine’s story — there’s much to be done before our community is whole again. But it will go a long way in giving us the peace of mind that our hardships were not in vain and that the reaction to what we endured will save fellow Americans from facing the same fate.
Members of the Senate: do what’s necessary to protect your people. Stand up to the special interests. Pass the Railway Safety Act.
Trent Conaway is the mayor of East Palestine, Ohio.