HAMMOND, Ind. (NewsNation) — The railroad industry is being criticized once again for reports of freight trains stalling on the tracks for extended periods of time. The mounting pressure to do something about stalled trains, derailments and train collisions in America is now prompting the federal government to act.
People have told NewsNation that they are enduring life-and-death challenges to get around the idled trains. Hammond residents said they are fed up with the stalled trains passing through.
These trains are having a wider impact on all of America, causing dangerous and sometimes deadly situations.
“It’s one of our core missions,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said. “Making railroads safer than they used to be.”
The money will be given to more than 60 projects in 32 states, including in Hammond where state representatives, who once saw a video of children climbing through stalled trains to get to school, were moved to act.
“I was literally crying,” Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D- Ind., said. “Because it just struck my heart. I have children, I have grandchildren. And I just cannot imagine them having to travel up under the train or going through the train in order to go to school to get an education.”
In previous reporting, NewsNation found that more than 24,000 blocked crossings have been reported in the past year. Nearly 30% of these trains block crossings for up to 6 hours at a time.
“This is a consistent headache,” Buttigieg said. “It’s a quality of life issue. It’s even a safety issue if you have an ambulance or a fire truck stuck at a crossing.”
Nearly 18% of the blocked crossings prevented first responders from getting to their emergency situations in a timely manner, costing many Americans their livelihoods, and even their lives, according to the DOT.
“For the first time under President Biden’s infrastructure law, we have specific funding to address the worse of these railroad crossings,” Buttigieg said.
The $570 million is set to be delivered from the federal government to the respective projects over the next five years, addressing only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of train crossings nationwide. But Buttigieg told NewsNation that lawmakers have to act to really change things.
“In order to get to the next level, we’re going to need legislation. And that’s why we are strongly supporting the Railway Safety Act that is moving through Congress right now,” Buttigieg said.
The Railway Safety Act was co-sponsored by Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, in response to Norfolk Southern’s train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this year. This act has reached the Senate floor, and if passed, it will not only impose restrictions on train length but also would increase fines on railroad companies that don’t adhere to rail safety laws. It will hold rail companies accountable for the dangerous disruptions they’ve already caused, supporters said.
“You cannot claim special government privileges. You cannot ask the government to bail you out and then resist basic public safety,” Vance said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t have reasonable public safety enhancements as a response to East Palestine.”
However, not all Senate Republicans are on board with the proposed legislation. Sen. John Thune, R- S.D., said that regulation needs to be “thoughtful and targeted.” He has cited too much government regulation, union giveaways and handing over too much power to the Biden administration as his objections to the bill.
Whether Congress will hold train companies accountable for stalled trains remains an open question. But Buttigieg claimed the transport companies are stepping up and working alongside the government.
“We really need the railroad companies, not just in terms of infrastructure, but in terms of their practices to deal with these situations,” Buttigieg said.
Until then, countless communities across the nation must live with this dangerous, daily reality.
“Sadly, when school starts in September and August, those babies are gonna crawl under the train and go over it,” Jackson said.
There is still no date on when the Senate will take up a vote on the Railway Safety Act.