Skip to content

Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On Republican Rail Deregulation Efforts Ahead Of Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw Testifying Before The Senate EPW Committee

Washington, D.C.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor ahead of Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator Schumer committed to moving bipartisan rail safety legislation forward and urged his Republican colleagues to take responsibility for detrimental Trump-era rail deregulation. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

It’s a busy time for the Senate as we get to the bottom of what went wrong last month in East Palestine. Last week, my colleagues Senator Brown, a Democrat, Senator Vance, a Republican, introduced the Bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023. I’ve promised to work with them and with colleagues on both sides to push this bill forward.

This Thursday, the Environment and Public Works Committee, under the able leadership of Chairman Carper, will also hear from Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw. I expect a candid, honest, clear-eyed discussion about how we can prevent another East Palestine in the future.

And while I am glad that Norfolk Sothern’s CEO is testifying, we cannot have an open debate, an honest debate in Congress about rail safety unless Republicans acknowledge how they spent years opposing safety rules intended to prevent accidents similar to the one in Ohio.

The story of rail safety deregulation over the last decade has been a disturbing tale of Republicans placing profits over people and currying favor with the rail lobby, all at the expense of workers’ and families’ safety. 

As far back as the Obama Administration, Republicans pushed numerous bills to weaken environmental standards, delay safety upgrades, and even prohibit—prohibit!—federal funding for Amtrak.

Under President Trump’s watch, it became easier to transport flammable liquids and hazardous materials without proper oversight.

Under President Trump’s watch, it also became easier to cut back on staffing requirements while operating a train.

And it was the Trump Administration that killed proposals to expand electronic break requirements across the industry.

The reason for that delay? The Trump Administration thought it was not economically justified.

You can’t come up with a better slogan for Republican’s attitude towards rail safety than this: not economically justified. Imagine the message that sends to small towns across America like East Palestine with rail lines running right through them.

I want to be clear: a full investigation into the causes of the East Palestine derailment must be complete before we know the specifics behind the accident.

But it doesn’t take an expert to see that if you spend years trying to cut back safety regulations, if you spend years doing the bidding of the rail lobby, then in the long run communities like East Palestine are at greater risk of accidents, and so are so many of my communities in upstate New York, where two of the major national rail lines run through the state: one across the center of the state along, you know, where the Erie Canal ran going through Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany down the Hudson River and the other across the southern tier.

In fact, now, this weekend we saw yet another Norfolk Southern derailment in Ohio, near Springfield. Thank God nobody was hurt.

So I look forward to hearing from Norfolk Southern’ s CEO this week.

I look forward to working with both sides to increase rail safety through legislation.

But Republicans need to acknowledge that accidents like the one in East Palestine don’t happen out of the blue. They become more likely when maximizing profits is crowned king above everything else, even above people’s safety.