Ohio lawmakers confirmed railroad safety rules following a train derailment

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Rail safety measures proposed in the wake of the February train derailment and toxic chemical burn in eastern Palestine are closer to the law in Ohio, as part of a nearly $13.5 billion transportation budget approved by lawmakers Wednesday has been approved.

A compromise budget plan that would fund mostly bridge and freeway work over the next two years passed both Republican-led chambers with bipartisan support and sent it to GOP Gov. Mike DeWine for expected final approval.

Almost two months after a Norfolk-Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed in a fire accident in eastern Ohio, Legislators approved the plan, which includes several railroad safety regulations. Among them, it would mandate a two-person crew for freight trains; require that personnel receiving notifications of failures detected by a railway’s trackside detection system immediately notify a train operator; and to direct the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to submit written reports to the Legislature on the transportation of hazardous materials and wastes.

The safety proposals also include a requirement that the route detectors used to detect problems be installed 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 kilometers) apart, under the supervision of the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Public Utilities Commission. Currently, the Federal Railroad Administration allows some trackside detectors to be located up to 40 kilometers apart.

The municipal works commission would also have to examine different types of railway detectors and cameras and present their findings to the general assembly.

Whether the legislature is allowed to impose these provisions on the rail industry at all was a matter of debate during the budgetary process. The Ohio Railroad Association has argued that several of the measures are anticipated by federal law. State lawmakers disagreed, saying the General Assembly could implement statewide safeguards to help protect its constituents.

Republican Senator Matt Huffman said the Legislature has worked with legal experts and believes the provisions are not preemptive, but if challenges arise, it may be up to the federal courts to decide.

The budget also includes lower registration fees for plug-in hybrid vehicles, reducing annual costs from $200 to $150.

A $1 billion rural highways fund included in the House version of the budget was scrapped in the Senate compromise, though House Finance Committee chair GOP Rep. Jay Edwards said the Financing will take place via the main operating budget, which the legislator will have to clarify in the next three months.

The transportation budget also raises the threshold for the amount of money a local government can spend on projects like bridge repairs by its own public workers before having to outsource them to private contractors. The existing limits have been criticized as outdated and unnecessary impediments to undertaking projects that the local workforce would otherwise be equipped to tackle.


Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.

Source : news.yahoo.com

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