H.B. 1028 addresses minimum crew size, blocked crossings and train lengths

Earlier this week on June 5, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a comprehensive railroad safety bill, H.B. 1028, by a 141-62 tally.

The bill will now move on to the state Senate, where the timeline for consideration has yet to be determined, according to union leadership.

SMART-TD Pennsylvania State Legislative Director Paul Pokrowka.

But it’ll be very important to get the attention of senators so that the momentum can continue, says SMART-TD State Legislative Director Paul Pokrowka.

“Thank you first to all of the people who reached out to legislators, including the public, members of our union and others in organized labor,” SLD Pokrowka said. “You all were a big part of why many legislators who have chosen the interests of the constituents over party tendency. But this is only the first in a three-step process and we’ll need to mobilize and motivate.”

Pennsylvania looks to follow Ohio in passing comprehensive rail safety legislation in the wake of the East Palestine rail disaster when a Norfolk Southern derailment released hazardous chemicals just across the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. The images and headlines from the February accident were not forgotten as the House considered the bill, which:

  • Fines carriers $10,000 for blocking rail crossings for more than five minutes.
  • Limits train lengths to 8,500 feet.
  • Permits rail labor representatives to have an active, participatory role while the state investigates rail safety matters.
  • Requires a two-person crew aboard freight trains and fines carriers who violate the provision.
  • Authorizes the state to inspect to ensure the functionality of wayside detectors in the state.
  • Authorizes a state study of hazmat/waste transport.
  • Creates a reporting system when carriers operating trains carrying hazmat/waste report these to the state.

Pokrowka said it’s important for the bipartisan group of 141 representative to be thanked for keeping the bill intact and keeping their duty to work for the people in Pennsylvania at the top of their mind.

“We’re going to need them again,” Pokrowka said.

But a big effort now is needed to urge state senators for swift passage of the bill for the governor’s signature in the face of intense carrier lobbying.

“We need to lead by example and make it clear that this is what constituents want their government to do and not to bend over backward to appease the carriers,” Pokrowka said. “We need to make it perfectly clear that this rail safety legislation is not something that people in the government should be on the fence about.”

Members are asked to use the SMART Legislative Action Center to contact their senators and to thank their representatives.

“If we get complacent here, the carriers will step in and try to sway things their way. Rail safety is too important a matter to let that happen,” Pokrowka said. “We need everybody to reach out.”

In 2023, political ideology factors into almost every aspect of our lives. It can dictate what news sources we tune into, what restaurants/coffee shops we spend our money at, where we choose to live, and even who we see as a “good neighbor.”

All of these are unfortunate realities of the world today, but the one issue on the American landscape that has managed to transcend politics in 2023 has been railroad safety. People across the country have all been forced to wrestle with the idea of how fragile their reality is in a post-East Palestine world. This issue has been met with the same level of scrutiny and seriousness across the ideological spectrum in newsrooms and legislatures.

Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo decided last week to veto a rail safety bill that had been passed by Nevada legislators.

Red states like Kansas, Utah and Ohio as well as blue-to-purple states like Michigan and Minnesota have successfully put typical politics aside and dealt with rail safety issues, including 2PC, train length, defect detector mandates/regulations along with many more. Momentum and common sense seemingly have gained a foothold since train derailments have been making headlines regularly this year.

Unfortunately for all of us, much like the majority of folks who get off a plane in Las Vegas or Reno with the grandest dreams of striking it rich, rail safety’s luck seems to have run out in Nevada.

SMART-TD’s Nevada State Legislative Director (SLD) Jason Doering and his legislative team put in an amazing effort to push for safety through train length limitations, wayside defect detector regulations that mirrored those put in place in Ohio post-East Palestine, and provisions aimed at preventing first responders from being cut off from the communities they serve by blocked crossings. Their bill, AB 456, was successfully shepherded by Brother Doering through both the Nevada State Assembly and state Senate. After making it through both chambers, AB 456 only had to be signed into law by Gov. Joe Lombardo (R-Nev.)

AB 456 is a clean bill that isn’t tied up into any other state or local issues. Doering somehow managed to avoid having amendments attached to it designed to make it unattractive or expensive for the state to pass. It was a basic question to Lombardo, “Do you see value in protecting communities and rail workers, or do you favor a gargantuan railroad’s bottom line and their campaign contributions?”

This question has one clear, acceptable answer. But the answer from Lombardo given June 2 was not that answer. He vetoed AB 456 clearly and definitively, siding with corporate greed and their bottomless lobbying budgets over safety and protecting his constituents from having their towns become the next East Palestine, Ohio.

In his efforts to pass AB 456 through the Legislature, Doering was met with opposition from the Republican caucuses of both the Assembly and the Senate. In both cases he got the bill passed, but both votes fell directly on party lines. Nevada has Democratic party control in both chambers of their legislature with Lombardo, a Republican, as governor. The resulting friction in Carson City that has manifested itself in a handful of issues, particularly evident in a power struggle over the state’s operating budget.

This heated and very public dispute has led to a scenario where Lombardo is not willing to protect Nevadans from toxic train derailments, in fear that it might be seen as a win for the Democrats in his state.

With political points being of great value in his war with the Nevada Legislature, the calculation is apparently that if another rail disaster happens in Nevada that no one will connect the dots to June 2, 2023, when he decided he would trade your safety for his career prospects.

It is SMART-TD and SLD Doering’s intention to not allow that to happen.

Lombardo thinks that he can gamble using your life, limbs, and livelihoods as his collateral. We need to let him know that he bet wrong.

Please follow the link provided to SMART-TD’s Legislative Action Center to send Lombardo the wake-up call he apparently needs. We need him to find out that we don’t play politics with rail safety. All members, their families, and friends are welcome to join this effort. If you are from Nevada, let’s be sure to let him know that he burnt a vote the next time he’s on the ballot.

SMART-TD celebrates politicians of any party who stand up for our issues, but in this moment, we need to speak with one voice and let all of them know that we refuse to be used as a bargaining chip in petty games.

Brother Doering and the whole legislative team in Nevada fought to do right by the communities they live and work in. AB 456 and every bill in this country deserve a fair shot to be heard and have a decision rendered based on the merit of the legislation, rather than the color of the yard sign of those legislators who chose to sponsor it.

In a letter to members, Wyoming State Legislative Director April Ford asked members in her state to reach out to state legislators and urge them to support train-length legislation. The text of her message is below:

“Legislators in Wyoming will be hearing a bill in the House Corporations Committee on Friday, February 3, to help keep Wyoming citizens safer and freight rail operations running more efficiently. HB 204 requires a train length to not exceed 8,500 feet in the state for the public safety. 

“Railroads are running longer freight trains than ever before, which means we are seeing more issues and blocked crossings than ever before. These longer trains are preventing emergency vehicles from responding to emergencies in a timely manner.  Minutes waiting at a blocked crossing can be critical to people who need emergency services. These longer trains are also causing issues on the tracks, which impacts Wyoming revenue.

“It can’t be stressed enough that emails to elected officials work; the more they hear from members here in Wyoming (like you), the harder it is for them to say no. Don’t let inaction thwart this opportunity to make train length the law in Wyoming.”

The Legislative Action Center has been set up for Wyoming residents to make their voices heard on this important legislation.

A pair of bills limiting train length have been introduced in the Iowa House and Senate and have gained some traction. House File 2339 and Senate File 2286 both contain language that would limit the length of any freight train to 8,500 feet.

House File 278 (now renumbered as HF 2339) was introduced January 28, 2021, by David Maxwell (R – Dist. 76). The Senate companion bill, Senate File 2051 (now renumbered as 2286) was introduced by Sen. Jesse Green (R – Dist. 24) on January 18, 2022. SF 2051 originally had two-person crew language in it, but that was taken out so that the bill would match the House version of the bill.

As mentioned above, the bills, if passed, would limit train length to 8,500 feet and provide for a penalty of not less than $500, nor more than $5,000 per violation.

Currently, both the House and the Senate versions of the bills have passed out of committee and they await floor votes in each chamber.

“We’ve had good support at the committee level to get the bill to where it is now, but it only takes one to tank the whole thing,” Iowa State Legislative Director Chris Smith said. “I’m hopeful and I’m happy that we got it this far.”

Smith said that he also got House File 210 introduced by Rep. Ray Sorensen (R – Dist. 20) on Feb. 10. This bill would double the fines for motorists who traverse railroad grade crossings against a gate or signal at quiet zones. If passed, the fine would double to $520. If facing financial hardship, motorists would have the option to take a DOT class instead. HF 210 has passed out of committee and will be renumbered for the full House to vote on.

Smith says that he’s not sure when any of the three bills mentioned will come to a vote, but he’s hopeful that they’ll pass.