Ohio Senate Creates Special Committee on Rail Safety

East Palestine, Ohio. (Courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

(The Center Square) – The Ohio Senate is expected to begin examining the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio  on Wednesday when a Select Committee on Rail Safety holds its first hearing.

Sen. President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, announced the new committee to hear testimony and question state agency officials and experts working the scene in East Palestine.

“Ohioans see trains every day, and in some communities, it is a way of life, as children count the rail cars with their parents while stopped at a crossing,” Huffman said. “The mission of the Senate Select Committee is clear. We need a complete understanding of why it happened, where the recovery stands now, and determine exactly how the Ohio General Assembly can best help our neighbors in East Palestine recover.”

As previously reported by The Center Square, the National Transportation Safety Board said last week high temperatures led to failure of the trains wheel bearings, causing the derailment.

The derailment near the Ohio-Pennsylvania line was largely out of the spotlight for nearly two weeks. A controlled burn Feb. 6, and social media buzz around Valentine’s Day sparked more interest with previously silent politicians weighing in.

There were no injuries from the crash, and testing of air and water have had positive results for residents in the area.

Also last week, the House Homeland Security Committee touched on the derailment and proposed rail regulation changes at its meeting.

Those changes, which included requiring at least a two-person crew on trains and requiring the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to ensure wayside detector systems are effective and up-to-date, were met by opposition from the Ohio Railroad Association.

Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, who represents East Palestine, was selected to serve as the vice chairman of the new committee.

“The derailment devastated the people in my district,” said Rulli. “I’m grateful that my colleagues in the Senate want to find ways to help.”

— J.D. Davidson

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The Center Square was launched in May 2019 to fulfill the need for high-quality statehouse and statewide news across the United States. The focus of our work is state- and local-level government and economic reporting. A taxpayer sensibility distinguishes our work from other coverage of state and local issues.