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Expert worries rail safety bill touted by Schumer will face pushback

Photo of train tracks
New York State Department of Transportation
A photo taken in 2014 of train tracks in Rochester, NY.

While the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio may feel far away, the U.S. Senate majority leader is urging legislation to prevent similar disasters from happening in Central New York. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York recently visited the region to tout proposed bipartisan legislation that would improve safety in a freight rail hub like Syracuse.

While the Railway Safety Act of 2023 awaits a committee hearing in the Senate, a local expert is concerned about its prospects.

Schumer said he wants more accountability and transparency from railroad companies, but Patrick Penfield, a professor of supply chain practice at Syracuse University, said that ask will equal more spending for the companies.

"It'll be more cost for the railroad industry, so that's the big issue," Penfield said. "Now the railroad companies will have to spend more for safety purposes."

Penfield said he believes that the monopoly seven companies have over the industry enables cost-cutting with little consequence to their standing in the market. The risk to others, however, is far greater.

"They've been very active at reducing cost, and trying to bolster the bottom line," Penfield said. "However, it comes at an expense where now we're seeing more and more safety issues".

While Penfield said he recognizes the importance of the railway industry in Central New York, he believes that the onus ultimately falls on state leaders to keep them safe.

"There's a lot of exposure for us, so it's really important and very prudent for the legislatures and politicians in New York State to really do something to try to protect our communities," Penfield said.

Local rail companies contacted by WAER did not respond to requests for an interview.

Laddie is a graduate BDJ student at Syracuse University