At Schumer's Urging, Federal Railroad Admin. to Investigate Norfolk Southern's Train Derailment that Left Train Care Overturned in Elmira Parking Lot-Without Local Officials' Notification

Press Release

Date: March 6, 2012

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has heeded his call and will investigate the Norfolk Southern train derailment that occurred in Elmira in November 2011, and will examine the reporting requirements of rail companies in New York State. Schumer applauds the FRA for this important step in response to his call in January, in which he urged the Administration to provide local officials and residents in Elmira with answers regarding the derailment. Upon completion of this probe, Schumer is pushing the FRA to close unacceptable loopholes in train companies' reporting policies that were brought to light in this Elmira incident. Specifically, Schumer will continue to push for the FRA to implement requirements of rail companies to notify local officials, first responders and community members of all such train derailments, through phone calls and other appropriate means, regardless of the number of cars or type of freight involved.

Schumer's January letter to FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo followed a November 2011 incident in which a Norfolk Southern train derailed and left a rail car upside down in an Elmira parking lot. Norfolk Southern failed to notify city officials or local law enforcement of this derailment, and city officials were later told that Norfolk Southern policy dictates that the company will only notify these officials if the accident involves five or more cars or hazardous materials. Schumer noted that local officials and emergency responders should be kept informed in detail and in real-time of all relevant information for all types of train accidents, in order to ensure the safety and peace of mind for community members whose homes, work and schools are in close proximity to these freight rail lines. Schumer argued that while notifying local authorities is of minimal burden to train companies, it can help municipalities avoid waste and invest appropriate resources for their investigation of and response to such accidents.

"Norfolk Southern's train derailment in November highlighted serious loopholes in the reporting requirements of rail companies to local officials and first responders when their trains literally run off the track," said Schumer. "I am pleased that the Federal Railroad Administration shares this concern, and has agreed to investigate what went wrong during the Elmira train derailment, as well as the specific reporting responsibilities that rail companies must comply with in New York State. While this is a critical first step, I am going to continue pushing the FRA to carry this process across the finish line to avoid similar instances in the future. The FRA should implement processes to close what is clearly a gaping hole in train company reporting policy, and require detailed and real-time notifications of all types of derailments and accidents to local officials and community members when the accidents occur. Luckily in the case of the Elmira derailment, no one was injured, however this incident shines light on the need for swift changes in train accident reporting policies."

Schumer announced that the Federal Railroad Administration has heeded his call and plans to conduct an investigation into the November train derailment in Elmira, in which a Norfolk Southern train derailed and was left in an Elmira parking lot, without any notification to local officials. An FRA safety specialist will be specifically assigned to research and report back regarding the incident. In his letter to Schumer, FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo noted that this specialist will work with Schumer's office and local officials to obtain details into the Elmira train derailment, in order to complete their investigation into the incident and Norfolk Southern's reporting requirements in New York State. Schumer is pleased that the FRA has taken this important step in providing answers to local officials, first responders, and residents in Elmira regarding this incident.

Schumer also urged the FRA to take that a step further and implement federal requirements of train companies to divulge all relevant information related to derailments to the community in a timely manner, including all types of accidents and incidents. It is critical that localities are informed and briefed on all incidents that occur within their borders. On January 17th, Schumer wrote a letter urging the Federal Railroad Administration about his concern of railroad companies failing to provide notice to localities when train derailments occur, specifically in light of the Elmira incident. Schumer requested that the FRA conduct a comprehensive investigation into the Elmira derailment, and also urged the FRA to strengthen existing reporting requirements to ensure that local, state and federal agencies are given proper notice in the event of a derailment.

After the Norfolk Southern derailment in question, the company failed to notify city officials or local law enforcement. Because federal reporting requirements don't appear to adequately capture the range of train accidents, incidents, and derailments, private train companies sometimes develop and implement their own reporting policies to the public. Norfolk Southern's current policy does not require notification to municipalities or appropriate local law enforcement personnel of a derailment unless it contains hazardous materials, or if the accident involves more than 5 cars.

Schumer argued that the notification of local officials and first responders is of little to no burden to train companies after a derailment. Schumer said that this requirement can be met with a single phone call to the appropriate local contact, and would add no paperwork or serious burden to the company that could disrupt it's business. However, providing accurate and real-time information to municipalities would save them significant resources. Depending on the size, location and cargo of a train derailment, a local community that has received a detailed notifications could gauge the appropriate level of first responders to dispatch to the scene. Local officials would also be able to make residents aware of such incidents, which would help avoid any further consequences of the derailment.