- Top Democrats alleged that President Donald Trump’s rollback of a policy that would have equipped trains with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes may have contributed to the East Palestine train derailment, however the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the policy would not have prevented the disaster since the train was not a “high hazard flammable train.”
- The train derailed on Feb. 3 carrying toxic chemicals including vinyl chloride, which was later released into the environment to prevent the cars from exploding.
- “I heard him say he had ‘nothing to do with it’ even though it was in his administration,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during his visit to East Palestine.
Former President Donald Trump’s deregulation of railroad safety policies would not have prevented the Norfolk Southern train which carried toxic chemicals through an eastern Ohio town from derailing earlier this month, despite Democrats repeated allegations that the former administration is to blame.
Trump disputed allegations that his administration’s rollbacks of railroad-related policies may have contributed to the Norfolk Southern train derailment, which occurred on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, and later released hazardous chemicals including vinyl chloride into the community. The Trump administration reversed a President Barack Obama-era policy in 2018 that would have required trains carrying highly hazardous material to install electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes, but the rule would not have applied since the train was not “high hazard flammable train,” National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy tweeted Feb. 16.
“The ECP braking rule would’ve applied ONLY to HIGH HAZARD FLAMMABLE TRAINS. The train that derailed in East Palestine was a MIXED FREIGHT TRAIN containing only 3 placarded Class 3 flammable liquids cars,” the tweet reads. “This means even if the rule had gone into effect, this train wouldn’t have had ECP brakes.”
“The regulation was specific to high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs). An HHFT is defined as ‘a single train transporting 20 or more loaded tank cars containing Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block, or 35 or more cars of Class 3 flammable liquid distributed throughout the train,” Jennifer Gabris, an NTSB media relations spokesperson, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “49 CFR 171.9. The derailed train was classified as mixed freight, and therefore, would not have been required to have ECP brakes per the regulation.”
Trump told reporters at an East Palestine McDonald’s on Feb. 22 that his administration’s policy had “nothing to do” with the derailment, to which Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg responded the next day during his visit to the town that Trump “could express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch,” PolitiFact reported.
“I heard him say he had ‘nothing to do with it’ even though it was in his administration,” Buttigieg said. “So, if he had nothing to do with it and they did it in his administration against his will, maybe he could come out and say that he supports us moving in a different direction.”
President Joe Biden tweeted on Feb. 21 that the Trump administration was to blame for weakening railroad safety and alleged that it may have led to the Feb. 3 derailment.
“Rail companies have spent millions of dollars to oppose common-sense safety regulations,” Biden tweeted. “And it’s worked. This is more than a train derailment or a toxic waste spill – it’s years of opposition to safety measures coming home to roost.”
Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesperson, told the Washington Post that Trump’s comment was directed toward the derailment rather than the regulation rollbacks in general. An NTSB preliminary report revealed that the derailment was potentially caused by a wheel bearing overheating before the accident.
“The NTSB safety investigation is ongoing. We are currently in the fact-finding process. As the investigation progresses, investigators will look at different factors and regulations to see what could have prevented the derailment or improved the safety of the train,” Gabris told the DCNF.
None of Trump’s railroad regulations related to the recent derailment, an analysis published Monday by the Post concluded.
A 2020 rule that expanded the amount of time a freight train could park with its air brake system depressurized was debunked since it is not clear the braking system was involved with the derailment and a revoked Obama-era proposal to require two-person crews on trains would not apply since there were two crew members and a trainee on board, the Post reported.
The Trump administration’s refusal to renew an inspection program would not be related to the derailment since the Federal Railroad Administration audited Norfolk Southern in 2022, the Post reported. The administration also implemented “weaker standards” for ethylene oxide emission, but “the rule concerned emissions by chemical plants, not the synthetic chemical released in the accident.”
The Trump campaign, the Department of Transportation and the White House did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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