Changes to Ohio's proposed transportation budget include strengthening some rules for trains
Hearings continue in the Ohio House Finance Committee on the state’s $3.7 billion transportation budget – which got a lot of changes on Monday morning.
A few were timely, being proposed just two weeks after the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine.
The changes include a billion dollar rural highway fund, banning a bike lane in the middle of a street or highway in Ohio’s three largest cities, and the requirement that a train have a two-person crew.
John Esterly with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen told the committee that’s the status quo now with railroads operating in Ohio, including on the train that derailed in East Palestine. But he said that could change.
“I think, to be perfectly blunt, if the railroads could do it tomorrow, we’d have it tomorrow. There’s a very big pressure in the industry to reduce that crew size just because they don’t see the benefit of the second crew, which I think all of us in Ohio over the past two weeks can say, I might have an objection to that," Esterly said.
Several unionized railroad engineers testified in support of the two-member crew provision, including Samuel Shatz, also of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
“The route I work passes through East Palestine, Ohio. And what happened two weeks ago could have easily just me at the controls," Shatz said. "No one should have to handle a disaster like that alone.”
Another provision would require railroad companies in Ohio to ensure that cameras and sensors on wayside detector systems are working and up to date. Unionized train workers say railroads rely heavily on those systems now, and there no required regulations on them.
Other changes in the transportation budget proposed on Monday include:
- requiring an incident report be submitted to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio every time a train blocks a rail crossing for more than five minutes
- demanding Controlling Board approval before federal funds can be spent on building new electric vehicle charging stations
- dropping the fine for minor misdemeanor window tinting from $150 to $25.