Pittsburgh City Council calling on Congress to pass stricter rail safety legislation

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh City Council is calling on Congress to pass stricter rail safety legislation in the wake of the massive train derailment and fire in East Palestine, Ohio. City Councilwoman Erika Strassburger says if what happened in East Palestine happened in city limits, it would be catastrophic, given the dense population.

“It would have impacted many, many more people,” Strassburger tells Channel 11. “Hundreds of thousands of people here. It’s extremely important we get ahead of any future spill.”

She and all of city council are now calling on Congress to pass the Railway Safety Act of 2023. It’s sponsored by Senator’s Bob Casey and John Fetterman. Council is also calling on Congress the pass the “Decreasing Emergency Railroad Accidents Locally Act” that’s sponsored by Rep. Chris Deluzio.

“Those bills would really ratchet up the safety measures when it comes to our railroads, especially rail companies that are carrying hazardous or volatile materials,” Strassburger added. “Oftentimes, we aren’t even made aware of what trains are carrying volatile or hazardous materials, so that’s one of the things in addition to fixing our infrastructure, we need to know what our trains are carrying.”

There is currently no legal requirement to notify cities or municipalities that toxic chemcials are being carried through the area. In East Palestine, Strassburger says the HAZMAT placards on rail cars melted off, so first responders didn’t know what toxic chemicals they were walking into. Strassburger says it goes beyond what’s being transported.

“We also need to improve the quality of our infrastructure,” Strassburger added. “The tracks themselves, the trains, staff up the number of people on these trains.”

The mayor’s office says it’s working with a coalition of 10 other mayors in western Pennsylvania to protect public safety.

“Trains come in and out of Pittsburgh, they go across Western PA,” Maria Montano, the press secretary for the City of Pittsburgh tells Channel 11. “It really is important for the mayor to work as a region to care for the regional infrastructure.”

The city and city council plans to utilize the ‘Fast Act’ to get a better understanding of the state of our infrastructure.

“Public safety — that’s been a number one priority for this administration,” Montano added. “This is part of that. Making sure our infrastructure is safe knowing what we can do to protect folks in case of major accidents like this.”

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