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Bipartisan rail safety effort struggles to attract GOP support

Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown, D, and J.D. Vance, R, have led several lawmakers in proposing the Railway Safety Act.

Published: March 6, 2023 5:23pm

Updated: March 6, 2023 6:10pm

A bipartisan rail safety reform bill has struggled to attract Republican support in the aftermath of a major train derailment in Ohio that brought national attention to the issue.

"We'll take a look at what's being proposed, but an immediate quick response heavy on regulation needs to be thoughtful and targeted. Let's define the problem. Let's figure out what the solutions are and if there are things we need to fix, we'll fix them," South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune told The Hill.

After a Norfolk Southern train derailed near East Palestine, Ohio, in early February and prompted an evacuation of the town due to leaked toxic materials, both of the state's senators worked to draft a response to prevent a similar incident.

Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown, D, and J.D. Vance, R, have led several lawmakers in proposing the Railway Safety Act, which would impose requirements to raise the minimum crews on all trains and tighten regulations on railcar wheel bearings. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Fla.; Josh Hawley, Mo.; and Democratic Sen. John Fetterman, Penn., rank among those lawmakers backing the proposal.

Some Republicans, such as Thune, however, remain unconvinced of the bill's merits. Among their concerns is a stipulation that would leave much of the specific regulations to the Department of Transportation. Secretary Pete Buttigieg has come under fire in recent months for his handling of myriad crises, including the East Palestine derailment, and Republicans are reluctant to hand him more authority.

Thune told the outlet he was "uncomfortable" with granting Buttigieg "much more power."

Buttigieg is currently contending with an internal investigation of his use of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) air fleet for travel.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.

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