by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on the February 3 Norfolk Southern train accident in East Palestine, Ohio, confirmed some details about the accident that earlier unofficial reports had stated. The cause of the accident was an overheating wheelset that caused a car in the middle of the train to derail. It was detected by a wayside safety device only after temperatures had reached dangerous levels. There is no evidence so far of wrongdoing, criminal or professional, by the train’s crew or by responders.
Further investigation will shine a light on whether wayside-device regulations should change, whether railroads’ car-inspection standards are sufficient, and whether the decision to vent and burn the chemicals was the right one.
It will not shine a light on whether the government should mandate paid sick leave for rail workers, protect union jobs from automation, or require expensive braking systems that make it more costly to transport fossil fuels. But that’s where Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s mind is, and progressive interest groups are thrilled.
Not one part of the Department of Transportation’s proposed policy response to the accident would have prevented the accident, and plenty of it is completely unrelated. In other words, it is much like progressives’ response to mass shootings: calling for the same policies they wanted anyway, regardless of whether they’d be effective.
Pursuing expensive regulation in the name of “doing something” could cause worse safety outcomes, a fact that Republicans should be prepared to explain. Every regulation that wouldn’t prevent this accident but nonetheless makes it more expensive to ship hazardous materials by rail is a regulation that increases the incentive to ship hazardous materials by truck, which is far more dangerous.