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Nonsensical Narratives– Train Wreck

ariel view of OH train derailment, East Palestine
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By: The Editors – nationalreview.com – February 26, 2023

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.

Buttigieg and others on the left have tried to pin this accident on the Trump administration. In 2017, it scrapped a proposed regulation from the Obama administration that would have required electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT). Environmentalists have pushed for that regulation because one of the most common types of HHFT is petroleum trains, and ECP brakes are expensive, thereby making fossil-fuel transportation more costly.

The Trump administration did the right thing to scrap this rule. Congress requested further study of the effectiveness of ECP brakes in 2015, and a 2017 report found their impact on safety to be inconclusive. The costs outweighed the benefits, so the regulation was abandoned — common sense. This wasn’t even an example of deregulation; it was merely not adopting an additional regulation.

Regardless, even if the rule had been adopted, it would not have applied to the East Palestine train, a fact that the chairwoman of the NTSB has stated. The East Palestine train was a general-merchandise train, with only three cars (out of 149 total cars) carrying a flammable liquid. Trains must have at least 20 continuous cars or 35 total cars carrying a flammable liquid to be considered an HHFT. Vinyl chloride, the chemical that was vented, is a flammable gas. Flammable gases are already subject to stricter regulations than flammable liquids. And there is no indication that a braking problem contributed to the accident.

Buttigieg knows all that, or at least he should, but the allure of blaming Republicans is simply too strong. His stammering in-person appearance in Ohio did little to reassure anyone of anything, aside from the fact that he is not presidential material.

He’s not the only one playing politics with this accident, though. Donald Trump visited East Palestine and told residents, “They were doing nothing for you.” Who “they” are is unclear.

First responders were there right away. Norfolk Southern is conducting clean-up and environmental testing, and paying for all of it. State and federal environmental authorities are monitoring the air and water and making sure that Norfolk Southern’s efforts are up to snuff. Ohio governor Mike DeWine (R.) has been on the scene and helping direct recovery efforts, reassuring residents that the tap water is safe by drinking it himself. State law-enforcement authorities in Ohio and Pennsylvania (East Palestine is near the border) are pursuing investigations. Class-action suits have been brought. Charities and churches have contributed supplies and shelter for affected residents.

While Buttigieg is peddling a progressive narrative that has nothing to do with the accident, Trump is peddling a grievance narrative that has nothing to do with the accident. Both of them visited the town three weeks after the accident happened, which demonstrates how urgently they viewed the situation.

Neither narrative is doing the people of East Palestine any good. Their town was the site of an industrial accident. They are individuals living in a specific community in distress, not political pawns to be used in the furtherance of a preconceived national story.

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Source: Ohio Train Derailment Political Narratives Not Helpful | National Review

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