As National Rail Safety Month comes to a close, experts in New York and across the country stressed there is more to do beyond June.
The Federal Railroad Administration reports there have been 18 rail-related accidents in the last year throughout New York, attributed to a variety of factors. Several recent incidents are getting companies to shape up their safety plans.
John Fleps, vice president of safety for Norfolk Southern Railway, said the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, back in February has led to several elements of his company’s safety plan being fast tracked.
“We are partnering with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to develop and implement what’s called an inspection portal,” Fleps explained. “Which is designed to basically take a 360-degree picture of every piece of rail equipment that traverses through it.”
Along with what rail companies are doing, state legislation has been passed to establish better safety standards. As part of the budget process, the New York State Senate passed a series of measures calling for a host of safety features. They include heat safety gauges on freight rail tracks, a freight rail safety task force and much more.
Norfolk Southern’s plan also involves developing new detectors for overheated bearings and axles on trains, and joining the Federal Railroad Authority’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System.
Fleps noted some there will be some challenges to getting the plan up and running.
“So, right now there’s a high demand for the equipment that’s in place and right now, there’s only a couple vendors that make the technology, some of the equipment that we’re working to implement,” Fleps pointed out. “So, competing for that limited supply is a small problem, but we’re working through that.”
Across the U.S., more safety requirements are being proposed to ensure accidents like the one in East Palestine do not happen again. In Congress, the Railway Safety Act aims to regulate trains carrying hazardous materials, and establish requirements for wayside defect detectors. It has been introduced in both houses of Congress and was referred to their respective committees.
Edwin is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He’s previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR’s Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.