Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg announces new rule to bolster rail safety

Biden promises accountability one year after train derailment in East Palestine

Washington — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a new rule on Tuesday requiring two-person crews on railroads in a move to bolster safety as rail regulation has come into the spotlight after the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment last year. 

"This is a good day for the safety of rail workers, rail passengers and every American who lives near a rail line all across this country because America's rails are safer today than they were yesterday," Buttigieg said at a news conference on Tuesday. 

The Federal Railroad Administration's provision establishes a minimum crew size for all railroads, including freight, passenger, and commuter trains, requiring at least two crew members. Buttigieg called a second crew member "vital" to train safety operations, like handling track switches and assisting in emergencies. Before the rule, he said a railroad could unilaterally decide to employ a one-person crew without checking in with the Transportation Department. 

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks about the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, during the White House press briefing on Wednesday, March 27, 2024.  Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The transportation secretary said people have been urging the department to address crew size for over a decade. And he added that the bridge collapse in Baltimore last week reminded Americans of "what is at stake in the safety of our transportation systems." Buttigieg said that the rule was a priority for President Biden and will address the patchwork of differing requirements across states. 

"This is a rule that is good for workers, it is good for communities, it is good for America's economy." But he added that it alone won't prevent accidents, and the department will continue to push for changes to the industry and press Congress to pass the Railway Safety Act. 

Rail safety came into the spotlight in the aftermath of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, last year. Lawmakers introduced a bipartisan rail safety bill shortly after, which has long been delayed in the Senate, where it's unclear if enough Republican support exists for the measure to clear a filibuster. 

Buttigieg said railway safety should be a "completely bipartisan, nonpartisan issue," adding that Congress "must pass it into law."

Since the East Palestine derailment, there have been more than 1,500 derailments in the U.S., the president of the Washington, D.C. Fire Fighters Association, David Hoagland, said Tuesday. He noted that requiring two-person crews pers train is a "critical safety feature" since the members post the first line of defense before emergency personnel arrive. 


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