Congress should vote no on the Railway Safety Act, says coalition

Photo Credit: Getty

The Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Rio Grande Foundation today sent a coalition letter to Congress expressing serious concerns with the Senate’s Railway Safety Act (S. 576).

The most glaring problems with the legislation include:

  • A mandate for two-person crews in perpetuity is overly prescriptive and denies rail companies the flexibility to adjust future operations;
  • A section on movement of hazardous materials avoids essential cost-benefit analysis, like a survey of likely risks generated by regulations that spur railroads and shippers to alter their procedures;
  • Prescriptions on use of trackside detectors that threaten to lock in specific technologies at the expense of innovation and flexibility.

“Railroads are crucial for the efficient running of the nation’s supply chain,” the coalition explains in the letter to Congress. “That makes it all the more important that Congress pursue wise, cost-effective policies that benefit the entire nation, as opposed to ones that primarily aid a few well-placed special interests.”

As with most legislation proposed in haste after a horrific accident, the Railway Safety Act would not necessarily do much good. The crew size mandate has nothing to do with the East Palestine derailment – the accident occurred under the supervision of a three-man crew who did everything right. It is merely the top item on the railway labor unions’ wish list.

The hazmat rules will almost certainly cause more shippers to choose road transportation as an option, owing to the inevitable costs increases caused by the new mandates – and we know road transportation of hazardous materials is more dangerous than rail, even including rail derailments.

Finally, the railroads have been introducing exactly the sort of detection technology the law would mandate, but the mandates will make introducing even better technology less likely. See CEI’s report on the merits of performance-based transportation safety regulation.

We must also remember that this bill has been drafted and is being pushed through without waiting for the National Transportation Safety Board to finish its investigation and publish its findings. Prudence should require that report to be considered before any legislative measures. The Railway Safety Act is a rush to judgment.