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Republicans press DOT Sec Buttigieg for answers on East Palestine trail derailment

The lawmakers pointed to a recent increase in train derailments and highlighted concerns with the practice of precision-scheduled railroading (PSR), a process by which railroads aim to reduce costs by pairing minimal workers with larger trains.

Published: February 15, 2023 3:47pm

Updated: February 15, 2023 4:46pm

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday pressed Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on his agency's handling of the railroads amid ongoing scrutiny over a major train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that has seen toxic material spill out of the wreckage.

In early February, a more than 100-car train transporting toxic materials derailed near the Ohio town, prompting a mass evacuation. Officials began releasing the toxic materials to avert an explosion, though flames have appeared at the site.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance demanded that Buttigieg account for the DOT's oversight of the train systems in a Wednesday letter.

"[W]e request information from the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding its oversight of the United States' freight train system and, more generally, how it balances building a safe, resilient rail industry across our country in relation to building a hyper-efficient one with minimal direct human input," the pair wrote.

The lawmakers pointed to a recent increase in train derailments and highlighted concerns with the practice of precision-scheduled railroading (PSR), a process by which railroads aim to reduce costs by pairing minimal workers with larger trains.

"While officials at the department's Federal Railroad Administration have said that data are inconclusive when it comes to the effects of PSR on rail safety, derailments have reportedly increased in recent years, as has the rate of total accidents or safety-related incidents per track mile," they continued. "The trade-off for Class I rail companies, of course, has been reduced labor costs, having shed nearly one-third of their workforce."

The Republicans gave Buttigieg 30 days to provide them with information as to the DOT's stance on PSR, any data the agency may have on its effects, and an explanation as to why the derailed train was allegedly not classified as a "high-hazard flammable train," despite carrying highly materials.

Formerly a rising star in the Democratic Party, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor rose to fame through a longshot bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, which ultimately saw him receive a cabinet nod from President Joe Biden.

His political prospects appear to have faded somewhat amid intense scrutiny of his official tenure as Transportation secretary which has since experienced mass airline cancellation problems and increased train derailments. He has further attracted scrutiny for using taxpayer-funded travel for personal reasons.

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

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