Hamilton considers backing bipartisan federal railway safety bill

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Hamilton City Council next month will entertain a resolution backing the Railway Safety Act of 2023, a bipartisan U.S. Senate bill calling for reforms and safety improvements in the wake of last month’s devastating East Palestine train derailment.

Hamilton Law Director Letitia Block said the National League of Cities and the Ohio Municipal League are encouraging communities to support through resolutions the Senate bill backed by Ohio’s U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance. She said the resolution would “urge the federal government and the state government to make some changes to protect citizens from the inherent dangers of derailment.”

The long list of recommendations in the bill include several key steps to improve rail safety protocols, like enhancing safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors, creating a permanent minimum crew size, and increasing fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers.

Mayor Pat Moeller said the bill seems to be “a lot of common sense bipartisanship.”

“This makes a lot of common sense. If this comes into play,” he said of the proposed legislation, “hopefully, there will be less derailments.”

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine near the Pennsylvania border. The train, which was 100 cars in length, was carrying hazardous materials which contaminated the water in the area. About half the cars derailed, the Associated Press reported about 20 cars were classified with hazardous materials.

Hamilton was one of the communities that donated bottled water to support East Palestine. The city, as well as Hamilton’s Pahhni Water, donated scores of cases earlier this month.

“When people are in need, and you are in a position to help, that is what being a good person means, to help your fellow human beings,” said Pahhni co-founder Erik Loomis, who encourages others to help the Ohio village of 4,700.

Hamilton IAFF Local 20 helped to organize the donation and drove the water up to East Palestine.

“In this life, people need to know they matter,” said Toby Howell, of Local 20. “The people of East Palestine are thirsty for fresh water. The least we can do is bring them some and show them God’s love. Drinking water and Living Water, changing lives one sip at a time.”

Dozens of Norfolks Southern and CSX trains travel through Hamilton every day, and the city doesn’t know what’s in those train cars, said Hamilton Public Safety Executive Director Scott Scrimizzi.

“We are not notified ahead of time when hazardous material is coming through the city,” he said. “Suffice it to say, it’s coming through town on a daily basis.”

But the city is prepared for a derailment, as the city’s HazMat team works with the teams in West Chester Twp. and Middletown, Scrimizzi said, adding that Butler County’s Incident Management Team “is one of the best in the country and frequently requested for disasters across the country.”

Hamilton’s HazMat team has yearly training and tabletop exercises on train derailments.

About the Author