HARRISBURG, Pa. (WKBN) – Work continues along Norfolk Southern’s tracks through East Palestine. Crews have been busy since last weekend removing the rails so they can dig out contaminated soil that had been buried there as the track was replaced following last month’s derailment.
In the meantime, state lawmakers in both Harrisburg, Pa. and Columbus, Ohio are wasting little time pushing new legislation to establish tougher regulations against the railroad industry.
In Pennsylvania, state senators want to create a new grant program to help residents and businesses up to 15 miles from ground zero.
“This is a short-term funding for any people that need relief or need to get out of the area and don’t have the means to do so,” said Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-33.
Senators had a hearing Wednesday in which Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw was going to testify, but he was unavailable. The testimony was moved to March 20, and the Pennsylvania Senate will be subpoenaing all of the company’s communications regarding the burning and blowing up of the railcar and the emergency response.
Senators say Norfolk Southern would be expected to repay the state on top of the $7.5 million the railroad has already promised to spend on damages.
“If Norfolk Southern can afford to pay CEOs $4 million a year and provide billions in stock buybacks to shareholders, they can certainly afford to improve safety of all their rail operations,” said Sen. Katie Muth, D-44.
In Columbus, Valley lawmakers have introduced legislation to call on Congress to require railroads to notify state and local officials about what they’re carrying.
“Ohio ranks third in the nation for train accidents over the last five years, with 304 accidents costing us $20 million in damage,” said Rep. Lauren McNally, D-Youngstown.
“We have a right to know what is traveling through our hometowns,” said Rep. Monica Blasdel, R-Columbiana County.
While the removal of contaminants could take six weeks to complete, officials worry the impact could last for years to come.
Hanna Erdmann and Michael Reiner contributed to this report.