Calls Grow for Rail Safety Laws as Officials Deem Ohio Derailment Preventable

Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, proceed to demand solutions about how a Norfolk Southern practice carrying poisonous chemical substances derailed February 3, releasing hazardous supplies into the air, water and soil. The Nationwide Transportation Security Board has launched a preliminary report on the accident, blaming a wheel bearing failure for the crash and saying the derailment was “100% preventable.” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has confronted widespread criticism over his response to the catastrophe, visited the village on Thursday for the primary time for the reason that derailment, a day after former President Trump additionally visited East Palestine. For extra, we converse with Emily Wright, improvement director of River Valley Organizing, who lives a number of miles from the derailment web site; Gregory Hynes, the nationwide legislative director at SMART, the Worldwide Affiliation of Sheet Steel, Air, Rail and Transportation Staff; and reporter Topher Sanders, whose newest ProPublica story particulars how Norfolk Southern officers are allowed to order practice crews to disregard security alerts.


It is a rush transcript. Copy will not be in its last kind.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Democracy Now!,, The Conflict and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg lastly visited East Palestine, Ohio, Thursday for the primary time since a Norfolk Southern practice carrying hazardous chemical substances derailed earlier this month, blanketing the city with a poisonous brew of spilled chemical substances and gases. Buttigieg has confronted widespread criticism for his response to the bomb practice catastrophe in East Palestine, the place residents worry their well being has been put in danger from the spill and a managed burn of the chemical substances.

Buttigieg’s journey got here a day after former President Trump visited East Palestine. Trump criticized President Biden for going to Ukraine this week as a substitute of the positioning of the practice derailment in Ohio. Trump made no point out of why he rescinded an Obama-era rule that will have required extra subtle brakes on trains carrying hazardous supplies. On Thursday, Buttigieg accused Trump of siding with the railroad corporations whereas he was president.

TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY PETE BUTTIGIEG: They acquired their approach on a Christmas tree of regulatory modifications that the final administration made on its approach out the door in December of 2020. I believe they’re getting their approach on the fines being too low. I’m sorry, but when the largest superb we are able to cost on a violation is $250,000 or much less, and that’s an egregious hazmat violation that will get any person killed, that isn’t sufficient for a multibillion-dollar firm.

AMY GOODMAN: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s go to to East Palestine, Ohio, got here because the Nationwide Transportation Security Board launched a preliminary report on the practice derailment, blaming a wheel bearing failure for the crash. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy described the derailment as “100% preventable.”

JENNIFER HOMENDY: However I can inform you this a lot: This was 100% preventable. We name issues accidents. There is no such thing as a accident. Each single occasion that we examine is preventable. So, our hearts are with you.

AMY GOODMAN: The Norfolk Southern practice that derailed had 141 vehicles and stretched for 2 miles. There have been simply three crew members on board.

We’re joined now by three company. Topher Sanders is a reporter at ProPublica overlaying railroad security. His new article is headlined “A Norfolk Southern Coverage Lets Officers Order Crews to Ignore Security Alerts.” Gregory Hynes joins us from Washington, D.C. He’s nationwide legislative director at SMART, the Worldwide Affiliation of Sheet Steel, Air, Rail and Transportation Staff. And Emily Wright is on the bottom within the East Palestine space in Ohio. She’s improvement director for River Valley Organizing in Columbiana County.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin proper there on the bottom, Emily. Loads of guests this week, proper? You had former President Trump. You had Pete Buttigieg. However the query is: What’s really taking place on the bottom proper now? Are you able to discuss how persons are feeling, what their questions and calls for are?

EMILY WRIGHT: Sure. Final evening we had a city corridor with unbiased scientists and environmental authorized consultants, legal professionals, and a retired hearth chief, Sil, who was a hazmat coach for many years. And other people have been very, very pleased that somebody was simply listening to them and answering their questions. Individuals’s questions are, you already know: What’s Norfolk Southern going to do proper now to assist us? As a result of a whole lot of them are concerned — we’re not doing any sort of class-action lawsuit or something like that. We’re simply providing free authorized clinics, which can be going to be developing, for folks to get unbiased recommendation that isn’t soliciting. However persons are involved about: Do they make choices now, as a result of they don’t have the cash they usually want the cash? Do they wait to make choices? Are their households secure? , they’ve — 50% of the those who have been on the assembly final evening raised their hand that they’ve effectively water. And at this level, the one — they’re nonetheless getting the instruction to drink bottled water, as a result of they’re not fully certain it’s secure. So, everyone simply actually desires questions answered. And I believe everyone will not be actually taking a look at even the high-profile visits. They extra simply need motion.

, we give — lots of people are pointing fingers proper now, however everyone is fairly disgusted with everyone. I imply, you talked about how Trump rolled again these security rules. Then we’ve got two years of the Biden administration the place that they had an opportunity to reinstate these, they usually didn’t. And so persons are upset with all political officers proper now. They’re upset that our governor and our Home consultant got here and took a sip of water in East Palestine as a political stunt and, you already know, mentioned the water is secure. However persons are waking up in the identical space, in the identical properties with rashes and nausea and bronchial asthma signs within the morning from simply being uncovered to the entire floor and soil contaminants proper now. So, you already know, there have been lots of people which can be visibly upset and actually really feel like — actually really feel like they’re not being represented on all ranges — native, state and federal authorities.

So, persons are going to be taking motion. They’re going to be writing letters, making calls. We’re going to be doing extra petitions, as a result of that is — sadly, our security in Appalachia is one thing that may change from administration to administration. So what we’re going to push for at River Valley is also change at a congressional degree. We want legal guidelines made. We want issues that may’t be taken away by government order or, you already know, positioned by that. So, that’s what we’re actually pushing for, is lasting change from this. And it must be bipartisan. All people must get on the desk with this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you held a city corridor final evening. Tonight, I do know Erin Brockovich is holding a gathering, who took on PG&E, Pacific Gasoline and Electrical, what, 30 years in the past for contamination in California. On Wednesday evening, CNN hosted its personal city corridor assembly in East Palestine. That is one native resident, Jim Stewart, addressing the Norfolk Southern CEO, Alan Shaw.

JIM STEWART: I got here house the opposite day. I put the storage door up. I acquired — we pulled within the storage, acquired out of the automotive, put the storage door down. As quickly as we acquired out of that automotive, the odor got here again to us. Straight away, prompt headache. , I’m 65 years previous, a diabetic, AFib coronary heart, coronary heart illness, all the pieces. Now, did you shorten my life now? I need to retire and luxuriate in it. How are we going to take pleasure in it? You burned me. We have been going to promote our home. Our worth went poof. Do I mow the grass? Do I — can I plant tomatoes subsequent summer time? What can I do? I’m afraid to. , and it’s within the air. Every single day I cough, three — just a little cough right here, just a little cough there. I’ve by no means had that, you already know? I acquired rashes on my cheeks and all of my arms from the derail — I don’t name it a derailment; I name it a catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: Emily Wright, discuss what persons are feeling. I imply, he’s diabetic. He’s 65 years previous. This was the participant within the CNN city corridor, difficult the Norfolk Southern CEO. And what about his presence on the bottom, the top of Norfolk Southern, Alan Shaw, who says Norfolk Southern gained’t be leaving anytime quickly?

EMILY WRIGHT: Yeah, that assertion was virtually verbatim most issues we heard final evening. That is really a extremely good time to spotlight one thing new that’s come up. So, we’re all conscious {that a} well being clinic was established for these folks to go to. So, they have been informed, if they’ve these signs after the burn and the spill, to go to the free well being clinic. And it was, I imagine, via the Well being Division, Ohio, and well being division in our personal. And this isn’t a clinic. Individuals are not being handled. That is 100% — I’ve all the pieces to again this up, however it’s a — only for background, I’m a registered nurse, and I’ve labored within the medical subject for 20 years earlier than this. So I can inform you that this isn’t an precise remedy clinic. It is a documentation and referral station. So, there’s no medical doctors. There’s no lab assessments, so no blood and urine assessments. There’s no diagnoses, and there’s no actual evaluation. It’s simply normally a nurse. They’ve some sort of toxicologist that could be there. They usually refer you to someplace. So there’s no precise remedy.

So these persons are not solely not receiving that, however we’ve got a number of those who have come out this week to inform us that house well being companies aren’t coming to those properties as a result of they’re anxious about being uncovered. And we’ve got folks which can be, you already know, bedridden, sick. One particular person, you already know, they requested to stay nameless, however they’ve a baby that has complete care wants. They usually can’t get house well being to return out and handle their youngster. And it’s actually been a battle. So, these are actual issues taking place on the bottom.

And so far as, you already know, for Alan Shaw, there may be nothing that he can say that’s going to make this higher, that he’s keen to say, as a result of that is what Norfolk Southern does. They arrive in. They’ve this stuff. They poison us. They maintain it — they attempt to sweep it beneath the rug. They usually assume that we’re all simply silly sufficient right here — you already know, we’re all simply hilljack sufficient — to sit down again. However I can inform you, from the assembly final evening, that persons are very offended, and they’re able to take motion with not solely coverage modifications, however they’re able to take motion and ensure Norfolk Southern actually does pay, not simply cleans up, not simply offers us some cash, however they really pay, as a result of these folks have misplaced all the pieces, their property worth. They don’t perceive if their properties are secure or not, like he mentioned about mowing his grass, you already know, with dioxin that falls on the bottom after this stuff. We had Stephen Lester speaking final evening at our city corridor about this. And, you already know, persons are scared — they mow their grass — as a result of they’re strolling exterior or of their properties or sitting on their couches, they usually’re noticing that they’re feeling shortness of breath or sick as a result of the particulates are developing.

So, persons are not being correctly taken care of, and it’s not sufficient. It’s a superb first step that the EPA compelled Norfolk Southern to scrub this up proper. It’s a superb step that they’re going to observe that. Nevertheless it’s not sufficient. It’s step one. And as a substitute of finger-pointing proper now, what I would love everybody to do is get on the ball of doing instant change via, you already know, this administration and thru the Transportation Division, after which engaged on congressional change, as a result of we’re uninterested in the finger-pointing. .

AMY GOODMAN: Emily, I need to herald Gregory Hynes, who’s nationwide legislative director at SMART, the Worldwide Affiliation of Sheet Steel, Air, Rail and Transportation Staff. So, Greg, this description of this practice, we’re speaking about February third, handed via three temperature sensors because it was going alongside, two-mile-long practice. The sensors are designed to alert issues like the recent bearing that ultimately failed that day. However the one sensor, known as a sizzling field detector, that registered a sufficiently excessive temperature to sound the alarm was the one lower than a mile from the accident web site, based on the NTSB preliminary report. Two-mile-long practice, not less than 20 of the vehicles are stuffed with poisonous chemical substances. And there are solely three employees, engineers, conductors on board? The man driving the practice, a conductor — I’m undecided; you’ll should right me on the titles — and a trainee? How is that this attainable? As folks noticed, miles earlier than, the wheels have been on hearth.

GREGORY HYNES: Nicely, first let me say that my coronary heart goes out to the folks of East Palestine with this horrible accident.

And the detectors that you simply converse of, there are not any rules requiring the railroads to have detectors in any respect, and there are not any rules requiring the railroads to calibrate and keep these detectors. So, it’s — we’re a part of the NTSB investigation, so there’s solely sure issues I can say. However the crew was not alerted with any downside from the earlier detectors. The detector that did discover an issue, it occurred fairly near the identical time that the derailment occurred.

And so far as the crew members, there was a conductor, an engineer and a trainee. However most — all of the Class I railroads in America at present have a minimal of two folks on the crew. They usually simply occurred to have an additional one as a result of that they had a trainee. Now, the railroads need to go to single-person crews after which no-people crews. That’s their objective. They usually battle tooth and nail in Washington, D.C., to not have any extra rules and to roll again the rules that they do have.

AMY GOODMAN: I imply, that is astounding. These trains go on for miles. And aren’t they speculated to spend a sure period of time inspecting every automotive that has poisonous chemical substances?

GREGORY HYNES: Nicely, sure, completely. There’s speculated to be Class I brake air assessments on all of the vehicles. And the railroads have rolled again rules on doing inspections and air brake assessments, as effectively. They’ve laid off 30% of their workforce within the final 5 years. It’s all about adhering to the needs and whims of Wall Road and reducing their operation ratio. The opposite factor that folks aren’t speaking about, as effectively, are, the staff that they do have, NS lately lower their coaching program in half, so that they solely get half the coaching that they used to get. I imply, they’re rolling the cube, all of the Class I railroads. And the factor that I wish to spotlight is that nothing has modified with the freight railroads in America since this accident occurred. They’re not taking any motion to vary something. The one approach they’re going to vary something is that if they’re compelled to.

AMY GOODMAN: In reality, a derailment happened exterior of Detroit with the identical firm. Let me herald Topher Sanders to this dialog. Topher is a reporter at ProPublica overlaying railroad security. You simply wrote this piece, “A Norfolk Southern Coverage Lets Officers Order Crews to Ignore Security Alerts.” Clarify what you discovered. Give us background on all of this, and in addition the general image of the most important railroad conglomerates in the USA. There are like seven of them, proper?

TOPHER SANDERS: Sure, Amy. Sure. So, a staff of us reporters at ProPublica began trying into numerous features of the derailment, and the insurance policies and the type of inside operation guidelines of Norfolk Southern turned very fascinating to us. And we have been in a position to study this one specific coverage the place, some years in the past, they created one thing known as the Wayside Detector Assist Desk. And it’s principally a staff of personnel that evaluation knowledge coming from these sizzling containers that you simply talked about earlier. And that staff, they’re not dispatchers. They type of perceive knowledge, they usually perceive among the workings within the workings of the practice. They will make determinations that when crews obtain sure alerts from these sizzling containers, that that crew, in the event that they deem it obligatory primarily based on data that they’ve, that’s actually opaque and unclear primarily based on the coverage, they will inform that crew to mush on. They will inform that crew to disregard that alarm that’s coming from the recent field or coming from the dragging tools detector, or no matter type of detector it’s, and say, “Proceed on, as a result of we’ve got data that in any other case tells us it’s secure for you to take action.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask about what has been discovered and the variety of derailments that there are. Over the previous 20 years, overheated bearings have led to 416 derailments, based on the Federal Railroad Administration knowledge on practice accidents. Most haven’t been practically as catastrophic as what occurred in East Palestine. Is the federal railroad administration in a position to regulate sizzling field detectors? Does it require railroads to report knowledge on how they carry out? And the way has the regulation of trains — its direct relation to lobbying in Washington?

TOPHER SANDERS: There is no such thing as a requirement for the Class Ones reporting knowledge associated to sizzling containers. All that data, as talked about earlier by certainly one of your different company, is type of held tightly inside every group. There’s no guidelines or rules about having the recent containers or what these thresholds needs to be.

One of many key issues that got here out of the preliminary report, that I believe everybody ought to take note of and be very keenly attuned to, is the concept the thresholds that ought to set off alarm and concern for a crew on any given class of railroad are wildly totally different. So, on one railroad, that temperature threshold might be x, and one other railroad, that temperature threshold might be 20, 30, 40 levels totally different. And on this case, they have been clearly trending sizzling. They went from about 60-or-so levels above ambient temperature on that wheel bearing to 100 levels above ambient on that individual bearing, between two detectors earlier than they acquired to East Palestine. However that 60-degree change — that 40-degree change, that wasn’t sufficient for Norfolk Southern to find out that that wanted to be handled at that second, regardless of what all of us noticed on that safety digicam, that there was a fiery glow beneath the practice 20 miles earlier than the derailment. And so, the chair of the NTSB forthrightly mentioned that, sure, contemplating what these thresholds needs to be and whether or not or not there must be some uniformity round these thresholds on these temperature gauges is certainly one thing they’ll be trying into.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Topher, ProPublica has additionally discovered that Norfolk Southern disregarded an analogous mechanical downside on one other practice months earlier that jumped the tracks in Ohio, a practice that was headed to Cleveland. What occurred? What occurred within the metropolis of Sandusky, the place 1000’s of gallons of some type of molten paraffin wax was dumped?

TOPHER SANDERS: Sure, that’s candle wax, by the way in which. And it was molten on the time, so it could have been fairly, fairly harmful, catastrophic, had that truly made contact with anybody when it derailed.

So, what occurred there was the Wayside Desk, because it was defined to us, really receiving knowledge about the identical type of challenge, noticed one thing trending sizzling on the practice, a wheel trending sizzling, a bearing trending sizzling. They did instruct that practice to cease, however — they usually introduced out a mechanic to evaluation the problem and see what was happening. And surprisingly, they have been in a position to have a look at this practice, one thing that had a trending sizzling mechanism, they usually informed this crew to mush on. After they did cease the practice, checked out it, they mentioned, “OK, mush on.” We’re having some indication that perhaps that’s not what the crew wished to do. They usually went 4 miles down the monitor and derailed and spilled 1000’s of gallons of sizzling molten paraffin wax onto the town of Sandusky, after knowledge was given to them that perhaps ought to have indicated that they wanted to take that engine out of fee. And out of an abundance of warning and security, that’s the transfer that ought to have taken place, primarily based on the consultants and the union officers that we’ve spoken to.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Greg Hynes, you’re with the union. I need to discuss extra concerning the employees, the rail strike that simply was threatened, and the Biden administration or President Biden signing off on a legislation that claims that they couldn’t strike, what their points have been then, and when you see any relation to what’s taking place proper now, and particularly on the subject of East Palestine, the place you may have these three employees who’re on the practice, what you assume must occur. The Republicans are having a heyday proper now. They’re saying, in fact, this occurred beneath Biden. Buttigieg, Biden didn’t go there. However Trump went. It was Trump who signed off on a deregulation of the trains, caving to the lobbyists. Might Biden, in a single fell swoop, simply reverse what Trump did and return to the Obama-Biden administration guidelines, that have been supposed to enter impact, sadly, from 2014, this yr, in 2023?

GREGORY HYNES: Nicely, the entire waivers that have been put ahead through the Trump administration needs to be checked out, those that have been granted, a lot of them inside minutes of being requested for. And the two-person crew rule, which was the minimal staffing rule, was carried out through the Obama administration, and it was able to be launched on the finish of his time period. The Trump administration got here in. He appointed a retired railroad CEO to go up the FRA, who determined that we don’t want any rules on crew staffing and simply principally removed all the rulemaking. And never solely that, however he mentioned, by FRA taking no motion on crew staffing, we’re going to preempt all of the states who’ve handed two-person crew legal guidelines, that means that we’re not going to do something about it, and we’re not going to permit any of the states to do something about it.

The present administration has revisited the crew staffing rule. It’s already had its public remark interval. It’s already had a listening to. And there have been over 13,000 feedback submitted. They’ve taken all that data in, and they’ll be releasing a crew staffing rule. However I agree with you that every one the rules, waivers which were granted via the Trump administration ought to all be reevaluated.

AMY GOODMAN: And what concerning the threatened strike, particularly round problems with, like, sick days, that railroad employees — and that is within the time of the pandemic — can’t take off sick days?

GREGORY HYNES: Nicely, it’s nonetheless that approach. And so far as the strike goes, it was by no means about cash. It was about high quality of life and security, due to this enterprise mannequin that the railroads are operating and working beneath, which they only need to lower precision scheduled railroading. They don’t need to permit folks to take time without work. They need to work you to the tip, again and again. They discover loopholes within the hours of service so that folks by no means get time without work. And our members have been simply, “We are able to’t stay like this. We are able to’t stay like this. We’re gone from our households on a regular basis. If we’ve got an issue in our house, we are able to’t take off with out the specter of being fired.” I imply, it’s actually a strong-arm system. And the strike was by no means about cash; it was about security and high quality of life.

AMY GOODMAN: Lastly, 30 seconds, again to Emily Wright, on the bottom in Columbiana County, the place East Palestine is. What you’re demanding proper now?

EMILY WRIGHT: We’re demanding first that the Norfolk Southern Company, you already know, principally pay — and never simply pay for this, however change their practices in each approach, like Greg was simply discussing. It’s completely ridiculous, the staffing. There’s no want. It’s a multibillion-dollar company. There’s no want for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Have posted report income this yr.

EMILY WRIGHT: File income. And, two, we’re demanding coverage change. We don’t care the letter behind your identify. We’re demanding coverage change now. And we’re additionally demanding congressional transfer on this so we’ve got lasting modifications.

AMY GOODMAN: Emily Wright, we need to thanks for being with us, improvement director for River Valley Organizing in Columbiana County, Ohio; Greg Hynes, nationwide legislative director at SMART, the Worldwide Affiliation of Sheet Steel, Air, Rail and Transportation Staff; and Topher Sanders. We’ll hyperlink to your pieces at ProPublica, as you proceed to cowl railroad security.

Arising, we go from East Palestine to Palestine, to the occupied West Financial institution, the place Palestinians held a normal strike Thursday after Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians and injured 500. Stick with us.

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