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Manchin said he would support proposed bipartisan rail safety legislation

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said Sunday that he supports Bipartisan Rail Safety Act Launched in the wake of the toxic train disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, which has caused serious health and environmental concerns for residents of the community.

“I’m going to support it,” Manchin said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “We have to do it.”

The measure, known as the Railway Safety Act, was unveiled last week by a bipartisan group of six senators — including two from Ohio — and aims to implement reforms to prevent future derailments. The plan requires rail carriers to give state emergency response officials advance notice of what they are transporting, increases inspections of rail cars to ensure people carrying hazardous materials are inspected at regular intervals, and requires at least two crews for each train.

It also strengthens monitoring of wheel bearings, which is the National Transportation Safety Board found to be overheated The Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine imposes new safety requirements and procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials such as vinyl chloride, which were in five tank cars that derailed, and increases fines for rail carriers for wrongdoing.

President Joe Biden supported the bill and urged Congress to move quickly on rail safety measures.

“This bill will make important progress — and we need to do more, such as requiring more sophisticated braking systems, providing more funding for federal safety inspections, investing in worker safety, strengthening state emergency management and response, and retaining companies like Norfolk. Just “The South is responsible not only for the immediate damage, but also for the long-term health and economic damage to communities like East Palestine,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.

Manchin also said more steps should be taken at the federal level to prevent future derailments, including requiring certain trains to be equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, as well as mandating routine maintenance checks and audits.

“I don’t think anything has been done about it,” he said. “And it’s time for us to get serious about this. We’re moving much, much more product, much more product on rail and on our roads than ever before.”

The bipartisan nature of the rail safety bill stands in contrast to the response to the East Palestinian train derailment, which has been divided along partisan lines. Republicans have accused the Biden administration, and particularly Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, of waiting too long to respond to the disaster, while Democrats have blamed former President Donald Trump for rail safety measures introduced during the Obama administration.

Democrats pointed specifically to the Trump administration’s decision to roll back a 2015 rule requiring advanced braking systems on trains carrying highly flammable materials, scrapping plans to require two-man crews on freight trains and ending routine safety inspections of railroads.

Still, bipartisan support for the legislation is a positive sign for progress in the Senate. Whether the proposal could pass the GOP-led House, however, is less clear.

Rep. Brad Weinstrup, Republican of Ohio, told “Face the Nation” that Congress “should take a look” if a review of the rail incident shows there are safety gaps, but insisted the problems must be addressed.

“We always try to do better, I hope we can,” he said.

Wenstrup also said that in cases where toxic chemical reactions can occur and a derailment can start a fire, it’s important that standard operating procedures are in place and followed to protect surrounding communities.

“Is there a standard operating procedure for how we operate a community? What is our response from the government? What are we looking for? How do we protect our people?” she said. “Let’s make sure we have a good standard operating procedure, so even though these instances are rare, numerically, we have to be prepared for that 0.1% or whatever.”

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