Schumer pushes federal safety board to expand probe to other rail giants

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has asked the NTSB to investigate the practices of other large rail companies following the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 14.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday urged the National Transportation Safety Board to broaden its rail safety investigation beyond Norfolk Southern to other large rail companies after last month's derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

In a letter to Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the NTSB, Schumer said it is “jarringly evident” that the industry is in “desperate need of a full and comprehensive investigation.”

He cited a "troubling and fatal combination" of factors, including deregulations, more than 26,500 accidents and incidents in the past five years, as well as over 30,000 employee cuts.

"I strongly urge you to expand your investigation into the safety practices of all Class I freight railroads operating throughout the country, including BNSF Railway, CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and Kansas City Southern; and issue findings, recommendations, and regulations to improve rail safety across the country," Schumer wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Politico.

Class I railroads are the largest freight railroad companies as measured by operating revenue.

Schumer said: “As we have seen firsthand, the freight rail industry has time and time again dangerously played fast and loose with the regulations while endangering millions of Americans throughout the country.”

NTSB spokesperson Keith Holloway said the board is reviewing Schumer's letter and will respond to him. "We appreciate the Leader’s focus on safety," Holloway said.

The NTSB launched an investigation earlier this month into Norfolk Southern's safety practices and culture following the derailment of a train transporting toxic chemicals in East Palestine and other similar accidents.

Hours before Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw appeared at a congressional hearing last week about the Ohio derailment, another of the company’s trains derailed in Calhoun County, Alabama. The Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency said there were no reports of injuries or hazardous leaks.

It was the third derailment involving Norfolk Southern since last month.

In his letter, Schumer asked Homendy to look at providing regulations and standards to improve safety, any recent deregulatory pushes that could have contributed to derailments across the country, and if the industry has a culture of ignoring its own safety protocols.

"The statistics and data on accidents and incidents for Class I railroads can only tell part of the story," he wrote. "They tell us how many accidents or incidents have occurred in the past five years—26,563—but they don’t tell if those accidents occurred in populated areas or how many gallons of oil were spilled or toxic chemicals released."

He added: "They tell us how many grade-crossing accidents there were but not if any occurred because the tracks are severely degraded or poorly designed. They can tell us how many fatalities there were—2,768—but not why or if company policies could have prevented them."

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday sued Norfolk Southern in federal court, alleging it was negligent for causing the derailment.