J.D. Vance’s Railway Reform Bill Picks Up Steam
A CSX Transportation Inc. freight train travels in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. CSX Corp. is scheduled to release earnings figures on January 16.
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A railway reform bill championed by freshman Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH) is winning over high-profile support from strange political bedfellows as it heads into committee on Wednesday.

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 was drafted after a train derailment and chemical spill contaminated the area around the small town of East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3. The accident drew national attention as residents reported symptoms of nausea and dizziness and regional water supplies across several neighboring states showed signs of contamination. The Department of Transportation and Norfolk Southern, the company that owned and operated the derailed train, were blasted by both sides of the aisle for perceived deficiencies in their safety standards.

The bill aims to “enhance safety requirements for trains transporting hazardous materials” and would increase inspection requirements, raise fines for safety violations, limit the size of trains, and set a minimum crew size of two certified personnel for all freight trains.

Vance’s bill has generated a considerable amount of bipartisan support — in addition to its Republican cosponsors, Josh Hawley (MO) and Marco Rubio (FL), the Rail Safety Act was also cosponsored by fellow Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D), one of the Senate’s most progressive members, as well as other Rust Belt Democrats Bob Casey and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and President Biden have also signaled their support for the bill.

Former President Trump, Biden’s predecessor and possible opponent in the upcoming 2024 presidential elections, has also lent his support to the bill. Trump visited East Palestine roughly three weeks after the disaster and slammed Biden for failing to do the same. Trump and Vance are close political allies — Trump endorsed Vance in 2022 and the two men toured affected areas in Ohio together after the disaster.

“JD Vance has been working hard in the Senate to make sure nothing like this EVER happens again, and that’s why it’s so important for Congress to pass his Railway Safety Act. JD’s terrific bill has my Complete and Total Endorsement!!!” Trump said via Truth Social.

Last week, Brown told The Hill that he believed the bill would have enough support to pass through the Senate, but expressed concern that House Republicans might block it. Railroads are vital to the U.S. economy and move about 40% of all long-distance freight by volume; many conservative groups have come out in opposition to the bill, arguing that it would create “a slew of significant new regulations that would do little to improve safety while creating gross inefficiencies for thousands of businesses.”

“Labor unions would be granted their long-desired wish to permanently freeze current staffing levels into place as it relates to locomotive operations,” FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon wrote in a letter to Congress, undersigned by over 20 conservative leaders. “This widely opposed policy lacks any justification, as shown by the previous administration, and ignores the fact that the train that derailed in Ohio had three people operating the train.”


The former president’s support could prove to be decisive, as Trump continues to hold considerable sway over the Republican grassroots and a commanding lead in the party’s primary, giving him considerable influence within the party.

Notably, perennial Trump antagonist Mitt Romney(R-UT) has also come out in support of the bill, as well as Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and Roger Marshall (R-KS).

“I’m thankful to have the backing of Senators Braun, Marshall, and Romney for this commonsense piece of legislation,” Vance said in a press release given to The Daily Wire. “Their support for this bill demonstrates the widespread, bipartisan consensus building for improvements to railway safety standards across the nation.”

If the bill makes its way to President Biden’s desk, it would be the first major piece of legislation passed by the divided 118th Congress.

The Midwest has been a pivotal battleground in recent presidential cycles and neither 2024 contender can afford to lose ground there: narrow victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin propelled Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 and narrow defeats gave the contest to Biden in 2020. Ohio has historically been a vital bellwether state, but has veered deeper into the Republican camp in the last few presidential cycles — President Obama won the state in 2012 by three points but President Trump carried it by eight in 2020.

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