Editorial: Pennsylvania has real role in regulating rail

| 16 May 2023 | 05:24

    A Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Editorial

    A Pennsylvania legislative committee is in favor of expanding the state’s part in oversight of railroad safety.

    The House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee gave 19-2 approval to House Bill 1028. It would authorize the state to maintain a tighter grip on the way trains operate.

    This isn’t surprising after the Norfolk Southern derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border. Keystone State agencies and residents are still monitoring the air, soil and water in the area and that is unlikely to stop any time soon.

    But while East Palestine is drawing attention this year, it is hardly the only reason the state should step up.

    The Federal Railroad Administration points to more than 1,100 train derailments in the U.S. in 2022. Pennsylvania has more than 5,600 miles of rail operated by 63 railroads.

    The railroads are critical to Pennsylvania’s businesses. They support industry. They transport goods. We saw in the darkest days of the pandemic-related downturns that our economy doesn’t just turn on dimes and dollars but on the ability to get goods from manufacturers to distributors to retailers. Rail is an integral part of that.

    But over the years, Pennsylvania has also seen the impact of rail problems. There were 51 collisions in 2022 alone, with five deaths and 21 injuries. It isn’t just about freight, either. The 2015 Philadelphia Amtrak derailment was just an engine with seven passenger cars. It was the deadliest crash in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in 28 years.

    Let’s think about where trains travel. Sometimes they are in urban areas, like Pittsburgh, where a train derailed at Station Square in 2018. But many cross more rural areas, like East Palestine. The topography of Pennsylvania means they also often follow or parallel rivers and streams. That is a huge risk to water.

    The federal government can sometimes be jealous and protective of its role in regulation, especially when interstate commerce is involved. However, most of the committee believed the state’s right would be accepted, according to Pennlive.com. Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Fayette, is less confident. He and Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny, were the only nay votes on the bill.

    Pennsylvania is an intersection of transportation, a hub for things to get from here to there whether they are traveling on roads or rails. It’s hard to ship things east to west or north to south without going through Pennsylvania. The state has broad ability to regulate the trucks that travel its interstates.

    Why should it have any less say in regulating the trains that cross its borders?