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Schumer cites Ohio derailment in call for safer railways in Syracuse

A man speaks at a podium at an outside event while a group stands behind him.
John Smith
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is joined by emergency response and elected officials in front of the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad that winds through downtown, Mar. 6, 2023.

The U.S. Senate majority leader visited Syracuse on Monday to push for better rail safety across the country after two train derailments in Ohio, including one transporting hazardous materials.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who unveiled his plan in Armory Square, said he’s trying to prevent a disaster like the one in eastern Ohio from happening on the tracks that run through the heart of Syracuse. 

With a train perched on the elevated tracks behind him, Schumer said he’s written a letter to every major rail company operating in the region and across the country demanding what steps they’re taking to prevent future accidents.

“They need to explain how they're improving communication with local governments like our county executive, like our mayor, and like our fire department," Schumer said. "And they need to stop any nefarious practices, cutting costs that risk our safety.”

The Democrat is also pushing the Senate to support the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023, which calls for transparency about everything from train staffing to safety measures that detect wheel or braking problems. He also said first responders need to know what materials are rolling through their communities.

“If it's one type of material, then they need to fight that explosion and fire in one way," Schumer said. "If it's a different type of material, they need to fight it in a different way, and if they're not notified, how the heck are they going to know what to bring to the crash or derailment?”

The railway safety bill would also establish a $1 million annual fee on railroads to pay for training local emergency responders. That’s welcome news to Syracuse Fire Chief Michael Monds, who oversees a hazardous materials team that can respond to incidents across the region.

“There's a countywide plan that we use to mitigate these types of hazards," Monds said. "But notifying the people in the immediate surrounding areas is going to be the number one priority and make sure everybody is out of what we call the hot zone. And that will be where whatever chemical is leaking.”

He said knowing the material not only reduces their response time, but also determines whether residents need to evacuate or shelter in place.

A train derailed in Springfield, Ohio over the weekend, just more than a month after the earlier train carrying toxic materials went off the rails in East Palestine, which caused concerns of potential impacts to public health and the environment.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at
John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.