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Capito Asks Why East Palestine Train Was Not Considered High Hazard

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, dressed in a gray blazer, speaks to a group of women in the West Virginia Legislature.Will Price/West Virginia Legislative Photography

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito asked witnesses in a hearing Wednesday about what kind of rail safety improvements are needed after last month’s fiery derailment in Ohio.

Capito, R-West Virginia, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, asked why the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, was not considered by federal definition to be of a higher level of hazard than other trains.

Officials at the scene made the decision to vent and burn five tank cars of vinyl chloride, creating a column of black smoke that darkened the sky over the community.

Capito asked Jennifer Homendy, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, whether the definition of a high-hazard flammable train should be changed.

“Is that something you would consider that should be looked at as a safety improvement?” Capito asked.

“Yes, senator,” Homendy said.

The NTSB is investigating the derailment but has no regulatory authority. That kind of change would have to come from the U.S. Department of Transportation or Congress.

The definition was set by a Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration rule issued in May 2015 following multiple derailments of trains carrying crude oil and ethanol, including one in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, in February 2015.