Regulations needed

Feb 22, 2023 The Marietta Times

George Banziger

In last weekend’s edition of the Marietta Times there was a column describing the lack of confidence that the residents of East Palestine, Ohio, have, in the wake of the derailment earlier this month, for government and government officials. The column put a special focus on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Michael Regan. While there is good reason for the residents of East Palestine to lack confidence in government, any failures that the government has shown in responding to this crisis pale in comparison to the negligence, profit-driven insensitivity, and irresponsibility demonstrated by the Norfolk Southern Railway. In the past year they have enjoyed record-setting profits and have passed on twice as much of these profits to shareholders ($18 billion) than they have invested in maintenance of their infrastructure. In the past four years the rate of accidents on Norfolk Southern rails has increased each year (New York Times, Feb. 17). They offer no plan for notification of municipalities along their train routes concerning hazardous materials. The train that derailed earlier this month in East Palestine contained 151 total cars, adding considerable risk of accident all along its route.

Norfolk Southern and other railroad companies have squeezed their employees to work unusual and extended hours in order to cut their company costs. Last fall the union rail workers threatened a strike over the issue of hours worked and lack of time off; the strike was averted by federal action, but the problem of over-extended workers remains.

Many politicians express antagonism and resistance to government regulation, but, clearly, in this case there need to be common-sense, pointed regulations at the federal level for these interstate transportation companies in the interest of public safety, health, and environmental justice: to require them to notify communities on their routes about hazardous materials, to install modern braking systems, to utilize stronger tank cars, to limit the number of cars on these trains, to inspect, repair, and maintain their rail routes, and to provide adequate recovery and rest time for their overworked employees.