ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – New York Senator and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer held a press conference at the Elmira Fire Department Monday, to unveil a “two track plan” to improve railroad safety following recent derailments in Ohio.
“People here in Elmira and across the Southern Tier, frankly across Upstate are really worried, and rightfully so,” said Schumer. “We’re a hub for freight rail activity. Between Norfolk Southern here in the Southern Tier and CSX right across the Erie Canal, we are one of the largest freight train transmitters in the whole country. We have over a dozen Norfolk Southern trains passing through Elmira every day, on average.”
Sen. Schumer says he sent a letter to the head of every major railroad company, asking them to outline the steps they are taking to prevent a toxic derailment like the one that happened more than a month ago in East Palestine, Ohio.
“First, what notifications will you provide to local responders now?” said Schumer. “What changes will you make in light of the recent derailment in Ohio? Second, will you ensure that our local responders have the appropriate resources to respond and get knowledge of it? Why is that important? Well, these hazardous materials are different. Our firefighters can tell you there’s one type of way to fight one type of hazardous material, and one type of way for another. So, if they don’t know what’s in the trains, and then God forbid, there’s an accident or derailment. What are they going to do? They don’t know what materials to bring and how to fight it.”
Sen. Schumer says he is also formally announcing his support for the new bipartisan “Railway Safety Act” sponsored by Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and JD Vance. “This bill will make common sense safety reforms, help increase communication to our first responders, get them additional support and make the railroads pay for their wrongdoing,” said Schumer.
Senator Schumer also highlighted a train derailment that happened in Elmira in 2011. Mr. Schumer says Norfolk Southern did not notify the city of Elmira about it. “Norfolk Southern had a train derail off this very line you see behind us. The train car fell off the bridge, flipped over into a parking lot of a nearby business about two blocks away. Listen to this. Norfolk Southern didn’t even tell the city of Elmira that it had happened. Can you believe it? They didn’t tell the mayor. They didn’t call the fire department. Zero. Nothing, crickets. How was find out that the train derailed? A security guard on his morning coffee run. Well, the people in this community were angry, they were livid. So was I. You can’t simply have zero communication,” said Schumer.
“So, I really, I put the word to the company publicly, repeatedly. And finally, they agreed to sit down with local officials and talk about the situation. I also got the FRA, the Federal Railroad Administration to do a full investigation. Now that Norfolk Southern is more chastened, there hasn’t been an incident in Elmira like that since,” said Schumer.
“Obviously, nobody’s equipped to handle an incident as big as what happened in Ohio,” said Andrew Mallow, Chief of the Elmira Fire Department. “We would call in additional resources. We can do an initial size up and hopefully reach out and get the resources that we need from that.”
Senator Schumer said at his request, the CEO of Norfolk Southern, Alan Shaw, will testify before a senate committee this Thursday.