ALBANY, N.Y. — Following a nationwide legislative trend in the wake of February’s derailment and toxic-chemical release in East Palestine, Ohio, the New York state Senate has passed a series of bills seeking to regulate the way railroads operate in the state.
The wide-ranging bills address everything from crew size for a mandate for positive train control on all freight trains within the state. As with all such state actions, should they become law, they will face challenges over federal supremacy to regulate matters of interstate commerce.
Currently, however, the state legislature’s lower house, the Assembly, has yet to pass any similar bills, with only one — A5639, requiring two-person crews — having been introduced.
Bills passed last week by the state Senate include:
— S5775, requiring trains of Class I or Class II railroads to have crews of at least two persons. Sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), it passed by a 55-6 vote.
— S6934, requiring the state Department of Transportation to develop regulations for the installation of “heat safety gauges” [hotbox detectors] and requiring positive train control on all freight trains within the state. Also sponsored by Kennedy, it passed 60-1.
— S6925, prohibiting trains of more than 8,500 feet. Another bill by Kennedy, this one also passed by a 60-1 vote.
— S6923, requiring a “comprehensive safety inspection” in a yard prior to travel within the state. Sponsored by Sen. Michelle Hinchey (D-Poughkeepsie), it passed by a 60-1 margin.
— S6921, requiring railroads to submit quarterly inspection reports to the state Department of Transportation. Sponsored by Sen. Iwen Chu (D-Brooklyn), it also passed by a 60-1 vote.
— S6924, requiring railroads to inform three state agencies — the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Department of Environmental Conservation, and Department of Transportation — about the transport of hazardous materials prior to moves within the state. Sponsored by Sen. James Skoufis (D-Woodbury), it passed by a 60-1 margin.
— S6926, requiring the state Department of Transportation to conduct a follow-up inspection of trains or track after deficiencies are identified by the Federal Railroad Administration. Sponsored by Sen. John W. Mannion (D-Geddes), it passed 60-1.
— S6922, requiring the state Department of Transportation to establish a “central registry of reports, audits, plans, and public inspections for freight trains and freight rail lines.” Sponsored by Sen. Lea Webb (D-Binghamton), it passed 58-3.
— S6935, establishing a freight rail safety task force to review the issue in the state and make related policy and budget recommendations. Sponsored by Sen. Monica R. Martinez (D-Brentwood), it passed 60-1.
— S2737, requiring the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Servides to review security at rail yards. Sponsored by Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens), it passed 60-1.
The Senate has previously increased state funding for railroad inspectors to $1.75 million, the Senate Democratic Majority noted in a press release.
“As we witnessed devastation unfold in East Palestine, Ohio, we took a hard look at New York’s existing standards of operation and identified real opportunities for reform,” said Kennedy, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “This package of legislation takes significant steps to strengthen rail safety here in New York State, and I thank Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for proactively taking action in order to prevent future disasters.”