COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Billions of dollars are being allocated in Ohio’s transportation budget as the train derailment in East Palestine is still top of mind, considering a few amendments to try and mitigate what happened there from occurring again.
“We’ve got broad support across party lines to get this done,” chairperson of the House Finance Committee Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said.
One amendment in the transportation budget would require the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and Department of Transportation (DOT) to “work with each railroad company in Ohio to ensure that the wayside detector systems are operational, effective, and current.”
“It seems like with advances in technology, the rails kind of stayed stagnant,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to take a good look at that.”
“We have to make sure that when there are issues with our rail that individuals know and they can react immediately,” Ohio Rep. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus) said. “Because those seconds count.”
On Tuesday, in the finance committee, three representatives from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen testified. They said that right now, there is no regulation for wayside detectors, and explained that when those were first implemented, any defect, no matter how small, would set off the alarm to stop and inspect it. But now there are algorithms that stall the alarm until there’s a major issue.
“When you think about, ‘What does it mean to have an on-demand system?’ Literally, it means the difference between lives lost and lives saved,” Jarrells said.
Another amendment being considered would mandate that a train must have at least a two-person crew; currently, there’s no regulation for the number of crew members.
“Having more than one person on the rail system is incredibly important because we know, having that team, it makes a difference,” Jarrells said.
The committee also heard testimony from transit authorities all over the state, many asking for help to expand routes and make transportation more accessible, including both everyday and supplemental school transportation.
“We have to make sure that every person across the state has access to transportation where they are,” Jarrells said.
“Funding generally goes more to the urban areas or bigger population areas,” Edwards said. “This year, you’re seeing a consolidation with the governor and legislature of ‘We agree with the public transit,’ and I think it’s a workforce issue.”
Edwards said something they’re looking at is public transportation across state lines. He said that’s something companies like Intel and Honda are interested in to retain a workforce.
“This is a way to get people to and from work and think you’re seeing a consolidation across party lines on public transit this year,” Edwards said.