Train safety and commerce discussed during Senate hearing

Local railroad says safety precautions are critical

Train safety and commerce discussed during Senate hearing

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Rail cars and train tracks are critical to commerce and Friday a congressional hearing on the topic was held along the Mississippi River.

"If small businesses across Louisiana and America are going to succeed they need to be able to transport their materials and goods safely, reliabily and also affordably,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana.

Kennedy chaired a U.S. Senate Small Business Committee field hearing at the Port of New Orleans to talk about businesses and their reliance on railways. "Railroads are very important to Louisiana, they create a lot of jobs, they help us move a lot of commerce,” said Sen. Kennedy.

Representatives of the business community, the chemical industry and a local rail road were participants in the hearing.

"Our plants run 24/7 and because of that it’s a fine balance for us between how much we produce which is reliant almost totally on how much we can ship, “ said John McIntosh of Olin Corporation, a chemical company.

"It's clear that when rail is healthy, profitable and productive that it's good news for all of us and of course that's good news for the small business community,” said Renee Amor of Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

Preventing fiery train accidents is part of the conversation.

"Our goal is to reduce risks toward zero deaths, zero injuries, prevent priority and environmental damage and avoid transportation disruptions,” said Paul Robert, of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

"There are three priorities. Number 1 is public safety, number 2 is public safety, number three is cost and efficiency, you want rates to be affordable, but public safety has to come first because a lot of these products that are shipped are hazardous, they are,” said Kennedy.

Nationally, efforts aimed at phasing out older rail cars that carry toxic materials continues. A local rail road that took part in the hearing said safety is never an after-though.

"Safety is our number one priority and we go above industry standards, we actually exceed industry standards on our track that’s low speed, it’s multiple weekly inspections, (and we work with state and local first responders to make sure that we have all plans in place,” said Ailsa Von Dobeneck, of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad.

Whenever there’s talk about safety concerns questions always come up about whether more regulation is needed.

"I caution against any sort of re-regulation on the federal level. The railroads do a really great job maintaining their own infrastructure and any service issues we work through with our local customers, we live here, we work here,” said Von Dobeneck.

"What you want is smart regulation, you want regulation where the costs are less than the benefits,” said Kennedy.

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