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Railroads push back on potential regulations changes in Ohio transportation budget

The aftermath of a Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 20, 2023, as seen from the air.

The head of the lobbying group representing railroads that operate in Ohio said some changes to train regulations in the $3.7 billion transportation budget could be unconstitutional.

The changes were introduced after a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine two weeks ago.

The transportation budget would require all trains in Ohio to continue to have at least two crew members, which is the standard now. Arthur Arnold with the Ohio Railroad Association told the committee there’s a proposed federal rule on that.

“This is the proper and only constitutional way to achieve this policy goal, as it would be uniform nationally," said Arnold. “Stopping a train at the Ohio state line to add or subtract crew members would be unworkable.”

When asked about a law requiring two-person crews passed in West Virginia, Arnold said he's under the impression that the law isn't being enforced, and doesn't know of any state law on two-person crews that has survived a legal challenge.

An addition to the budget this week would also demand updated cameras, sensors and other components of wayside detector systems, which are currently not regulated. Arnold said that again is a federal issue.

The day before, unionized railroad workers told the House Finance Committee that the rules changes are important for safety.

On Tuesday, John Esterly with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said, “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."

Arnold said he's not aware of any railroad companies intending to drop down to only a single crew member and he doesn't see the industry doing that unless they can assure they can operate trains safely.

"I'll be a proponent of what's supported by the facts," Arnold said. "And I have not seen any facts that suggest that a two-man crew is safer or less safe than a one-person crew or that a one-person crew is unsafe."

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at