President Biden’s budget released in March includes more than USD 1 billion investment to support rail safety projects delivering an improved critical rail infrastructure. The budget also highlights a continued work to hold Norfolk Southern accountable and make US railways safer.
The largest share that has a value of USD 760 million will be allotted for both the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) programme and Rail Crossing Elimination programme to provide additional dedicated grant funding to improve nearly all facets of rail safety, including upgrading track, rolling stock, and signalling systems. It will also support rail employee safety training programmes and preventing rail trespassing and highway-rail grade crossing collisions.
USD 273.5 million will be provided to support Federal Railroad Administration’s rail safety personnel, expand critical inspection and audit capabilities, enhance data analysis to better identify the root causes of rail safety incidents, and increase stakeholder outreach and partnerships to address and eliminate threats to public safety.
A USD 59 million financing will sustain a cross-cutting research and development programme to advance new technologies and practices to improve the safety in railway sector.
Additionally, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced it is conducting a 60-day supplemental safety assessment of Norfolk Southern Railway following multiple safety incidents. The safety assessment will exceed the scope of existing FRA audits and take an expansive look at Norfolk Southern’s overall safety culture and operations. Information will be used to target specific areas for FRA’s oversight and enforcement efforts and identify risks beyond the reach of current federal regulations. FRA will use the information to push Norfolk Southern to develop measures to mitigate risks while identifying any appropriate enforcement actions.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is calling on Norfolk Southern to engage its employees and management around safety in order to protect workers and communities following Norfolk Southern incidents in Reed, Pennsylvania, Bessemer, Alabama and Sandusky, East Palestine, Springfield, and Cleveland, in Ohio. Restoring public confidence, especially in the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates, requires action beyond the six-point safety plan the company announced March 6.
“After a series of derailments and the death of one of its workers, we are initiating this further supplemental safety review of Norfolk Southern, while also calling on Norfolk Southern to act urgently to improve its focus on safety so the company can begin earning back the trust of the public and its employees. This comes as USDOT continues its own urgent actions to further improve freight rail safety and accountability,” U.S. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.
In March, FRA has issued a Supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking that will require railway companies to provide emergency escape breathing apparatus to train crews and other employees while they are occupying a locomotive cab of a freight train transporting a hazardous material that would pose an inhalation hazard in the event of release during an accident.
FRA says that “given recent events, Norfolk Southern and all major freight railways must be taking immediate steps to prioritise safety training and culture along with operational actions that match the severity of recent incidents.”