I did some factual digging on this question and considered posting this in FQ, but I felt it would devolve quickly regardless. I do not mean this thread to be a defense of Trump, but rather an indictment of our government as a whole. The rail safety standards proposed under Obama were inadequate, had no chance of being improved under Trump, and have been ignored under Biden.
The argument I’m tackling is frequently summarized thusly:
A rule was passed under President Barack Obama that made it a requirement for trains carrying hazardous flammable materials to have ECP brakes, but this was rescinded in 2017 by the Trump administration.
Oft quoted, including above, is this statement from Steven Ditmeyer, a former official at the Federal Railway Administration:
“Would ECP brakes have reduced the severity of this accident? Yes,” Ditmeyer said.
I don’t know how ECP brakes work and didn’t go down that particular rabbit hole. The initial investigation from the NTSB points to a failed wheel bearing that went unnoticed for (IMO) far too long. My limited understanding of trains is that the conventional air brakes are fail “safe,” meaning if a fire severed the brake lines all of the rail cars behind the break would automatically slow. But ECP brakes stop trains faster and the NTSB notes that an alarm was triggered and the train crew applied the emergency brakes, so Ditmeyer’s statement seems true.
Contemporary coverage of Trump repealing the Obama-era mandate for ECP brakes are focused on trains carrying specifically crude oil, and not “hazardous flammable materials.” Confused, I dug up the actual proposed regulation. Long story short, it would only apply to trains carrying at least 20 continuous cars carrying class 3 flammable liquids, trains carrying more than 35 cars in total carrying class 3 flammable liquids, or trains carrying more than 70 cars carrying class 3 flammable liquids and moving greater than 30mph.
Vinyl Chloride is a class 2 flammable liquid, and there were only 5 cars carrying it.
After I found this information, I saw that it was confirmed in the Verify link posted above:
In an email, an NTSB spokesperson told VERIFY the train involved in the Ohio derailment was not equipped with ECP brakes. On Feb. 16, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy addressed misinformation spreading about the derailment on Twitter.
Homendy directly acknowledged that the ECP brake rule would not have prevented the crash if implemented because the train that derailed in East Palestine was a mixed freight train that contained only three placarded Class 3 flammable liquids cars. Homendy said the ECP braking rule would have applied only to high-hazard flammable trains.
“This means even if the rule had gone into effect, this train wouldn’t have had ECP brakes,” Homendy said.
I think this is important because it’s too easy to point to Republicans as being the cause of all of our problems, and not hold our own side accountable. Even if the regulation that Trump repealed had applied to this train, it’s possible that it still wouldn’t, because the proposed regulation gave rail operators until 1 May 2023 to come into full compliance. At best, the ECP rule was too little, too late, and then never picked up again by the Biden administration.