New York lawmakers take steps to improve rail safety

The New York Senate has approved a bill aimed at improving rail freight safety in the state in the wake of recent rail accidents nationwide.

The legislation package, approved in a series of votes on Tuesday, seeks to minimize the risks of train derailments and enhance the maintenance and safety procedures of freight trains traveling along hundreds of miles of rail tracks that crisscross the Empire State.

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Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said the legislation includes “common-sense” plans to “enhance rail safety and safeguard communities near rail tracks, which often bear the brunt of rail disasters.”

“We must not wait for a train derailment like Norfolk Southern’s in East Palestine to occur before we take action to help prevent them from happening in New York,” she said in a statement.

One proposal in the package of rail safety bills would require the state Department of Transportation to create rules and regulations for installing heat safety gauges on freight rail tracks at regular intervals and require freight trains to ensure their positive train control systems are properly functioning.

The train control systems, mandated by Congress in 2008, are designed to prevent train-on-train collisions, speed-related derailments and other safety issues.

Another bill would prohibit freight trains in excess of 8,500 feet in length along the state’s rail lines to “minimize the risk” of train derailments unless the state DOT otherwise determines that larger trains can operate safely on the route. Another would require freight trains with at least two operators working in the state.

State Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, who filed the bill requiring two operators on trains, said the Ohio train derailment “put into stark focus the need to place more rigorous oversight of New York’s freight rail systems.”

“In the Hudson Valley, freight trains run right through the center of our towns and cities, and yet those entering New York are not subject to instate and on-site safety inspections, opening our communities up to entirely preventable catastrophes,” she said.

The package also includes a proposal requiring railroad operators to inform state agencies about freight rail trains transporting hazardous materials before traveling on tracks within the state.

It also includes a plan authorizing the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to review and analyze security measures at rail yards.

“The security of hazardous chemicals in New York should be guaranteed at every step of the way,” said Sen. Leroy Comrie, D-Queens, the bill’s primary sponsor. “The transportation of hazardous chemicals by train, however, presents several vulnerable points where dangerous situations might occur, whether by accident or purposely at the hands of bad actors.”

New York lawmakers approved a plan as part of the $229 billion fiscal year 2024 budget to spend $800,000 in additional funding for 10 state railroad inspectors, bringing the total funding to $1.75 million. That funding was also in response to the Ohio derailment.

“Our nation relies on an efficient and well-run transportation network to maintain our supply chains and keep costs in check, but it cannot come at the expense of the health and safety of New Yorkers,” state Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said in a statement.


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