U.S. Dept. of Transportation takes lead from Safer Rails Act, improves public safety by requiring larger train crews

State Rep. Rob Matzie, D-Beaver, said today’s decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation to require major freight railroads to maintain at least a two-person crew is a step in the right direction, and mirrors the actions recommended in the House’s Safer Rails, Safer Communities Act Matzie introduced, which passed the House in June 2023.

“Safe staffing on trains is good for public safety, especially when we’re still seeing more than 1,700 derailments a year and living with the impacts of accidents like East Palestine and the derailment in the Lehigh Valley a few weeks ago,” Matzie said. “Safer railroads are good for citizens, good for businesses, and, frankly, good for the railroads themselves when the people know those railroads are putting safety first.”

Matzie noted this federal rule still does not carry the full weight of law, which is why he’s redoubling his efforts to get the Safer Rails, Safer Community Act passed by the state Senate and signed into law by Gov. Josh Shapiro.

“House Bill 1028 passed the state House with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, but the state Senate refuses to bring it up for a simple up or down vote. I’m urging everyone who wants to stand up for public safety, good jobs and helping our first responders to contact their senator and ask them to demand a vote on the bill.”

Matzie said the bill would codify two-person crews into law, and:

  • Set a maximum train length of 8,500 feet (roughly 1.6 miles).
  • Require the Public Utility Commission and state Transportation Department to create standards for reporting and tracking hazardous materials with a database available to first responders.
  • Require the PUC and PennDOT to ensure proper functioning of wayside detectors intended to warn crews when train car wheels or brakes are overheating.
  • Limit the amount of time a parked train can block a grade crossing.
  • Make sure rail worker union representatives can be present for safety inspections.

“While the federal action is good news, Pennsylvania has a plan to take care of our own ready and waiting for the Senate to get to work – we can’t just ignore the problem.”