Press Release

Following New Report On Binghamton’s Rail Bridges, Schumer, Gillibrand Call On Norfolk Southern To Immediately Begin Work With City To Address Disparities In Conditions, And On Feds To Investigate Safety Concerns

Sep 18, 2023

A Recent Independent Engineering Inspection Commissioned By The City Of Binghamton Found Nearly A Dozen Binghamton Bridges Owned And Operated By Norfolk Southern Railroad To Be In Severe Or Poor Condition, But City Has Been Unable To Commence Substantive Engagement From Norfolk Southern To Address Safety Concerns In New Report

Senators Personally Wrote To Head Of Norfolk Southern & The FRA To Immediately Work With The City To Address Safety Concerns; Schumer, Gillibrand Also Urged The FRA To Conduct Its Own Inspection Of Bridges In Question To Understand If These Structures Pose Greater Safety Threats To Binghamton Community

Schumer, Gillibrand: Norfolk Southern Has A Responsibility To Comprehensively Address Concerns Over Binghamton’s Rail Bridges

Citing concerns about the safety of several rail bridges the City of Binghamton identified in an independent engineering report, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today called on Norfolk Southern Railway to immediately work with local leaders to address these concerns, as well as share their own bridge inspection reports with the City, and comprehensively respond to the report.

Given potential discrepancies between the City’s audit and Norfolk Southern’s reports of the bridges, Schumer and Gillibrand also called on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to also meet with the City and conduct its own federal audit and review of the bridges in question to establish a more precise and detailed picture of the rail-bridge safety concerns that must be addressed.

“After the City of Binghamton commissioned its own independent engineering report on the safety of Binghamton’s rail bridges, which raised many concerns, Norfolk Southern has a responsibility to comprehensively respond to the report to ensure the continued safety of the community. That is why I’ve personally written to both Norfolk Southern and the FRA to request they promptly meet with the City to address any and all infrastructure and safety issues in the report and ensure the safety of the greater Binghamton community,” said Senator Schumer. “We cannot wait for an accident to spur action; Norfolk Southern needs to come to the table to fully address the concerns raised by the City to ensure Binghamton’s rail bridges are safe over the long haul.”

“The findings from the inspection report that the City of Binghamton commissioned are deeply troubling,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The structural and safety concerns raised in the report must be addressed before tragedy strikes. I am urging the Federal Railroad Administration to inspect these bridges further to bring to light any immediate safety threats, and I am demanding that Norfolk Southern Railway work with the City to fully assess the situation and make the necessary repairs immediately.”

In the wake of the devastating train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this year, along with growing concerns from local residents, the City of Binghamton called for the inspection of 28 railroad bridges throughout the city. The result was a comprehensive 900-page report that names 15 of the city’s bridges as either in severe or poor condition, most of which are owned by Norfolk Southern. Schumer and Gillibrand said that although the companies who own these bridges, such as Norfolk Southern, are regularly required to complete their own inspections, potential discrepancies between their reports and the city’s report have him calling for more accountability and communication from the companies. The senators want Norfolk Southern to both meet with the city and comprehensively respond to the city’s independent report in detail.

In addition, in a letter to the FRA, Schumer and Gillibrand urged the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct its own audit and inspection of the structural safety of the railroad bridges in question, given the clear discrepancy between the City’s audit and Norfolk Southern’s findings of the bridges. The senators explained that the FRA’s inspection will help the city understand whether or not these visual concerns pose greater safety threats to the surrounding community. Schumer and Gillibrand also sent a letter to Norfolk Southern, calling on the company to promptly share the reports from their own separate safety inspections with the City. Additionally, the senators asked that both Norfolk Southern and the FRA meet with local city leadership to discuss both reports and act swiftly to address any concerns the community may have.

This builds on Schumer’s direct advocacy to get answers from railroad companies and increase transparency. This past April, Schumer introduced the bipartisan Railway Safety Act of 2023, legislation to help create new rail safety protocols, hold railroads accountable for malfeasance, and increase transparency of trains carrying hazardous materials. In a letter sent last March, Schumer demanded that the companies outline the steps they are taking to improve rail safety and better communicate notifications to all levels of government to ensure a preventable tragedy like Ohio’s never happens again. Schumer also successfully got the CEO of Norfolk Southern to testify before Congress. The senator has also written to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) urging them to undertake safety audits of the major freight railroads operating in the country.

Schumer has long pushed for information sharing between railroads, states, and localities to be strengthened and improved in order to increase community safety. In 2013, he called for local emergency response officials to be notified in advance of a crude oil-carrying train coming through their community. In response, the U.S. Department of Transportation promptly issued an emergency order requiring State Emergency Response Commissions to be notified, which was subsequently made permanent for High Hazard Flammable Trains in a 2015 rule. Schumer had also secured other increased safety provisions like requiring freight carriers to equip high hazard flammable unit trains carrying crude oil or hazardous materials with Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes, but that rule was later repealed under the Trump administration in 2018. In 2013, Schumer successfully pushed the federal DOT to regulate dangerous crude oil carrying DOT-111 tank cars that were common in Upstate NY. Schumer has also pushed for better information-sharing among railroad companies and local first responders, who are often the first on the scene of a derailment. Prior to Schumer’s advocacy, railroads carrying crude oil on High Hazard Flammable Trains through New York communities were not required to notify emergency response teams, but he secured a 2014 emergency order by the USDOT that now requires this information to be shared. Schumer has continuously pushed railroads to expand these provisions so local government and first responders have all the information they need.

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s original letter to the FRA can be found here. A copy of the Senators’ original letter to Norfolk Southern can be found here and below:

Dear Mr. Shaw:

We request your attention to several railroad safety concerns in the City of Binghamton, New York, which involve a number of bridges owned and operated by your company, Norfolk Southern Railway. A recent inspection commissioned by the City of all railroad bridges located within Binghamton found an alarming number of the bridges to be in troubling condition, including potential structural or safety concerns involving several of Norfolk Southern Railroad’s bridges. Similarly, it is our understanding that Norfolk Southern has conducted its own separate inspection with competing findings—please share those reports with the City. In light of these reports and your responsibility to the community, we request that you meet with the City to discuss both reports and act promptly to address any concerns the community may have.

The City of Binghamton recently hired an independent engineering firm to survey the twenty-five bridges—owned by either your railroad or the New York Susquehanna & Western Corporation—found within the City. The independent inspections, which began in June 2023, were visual safety inspections focused on identifying any signs of distress “that may indicate serious safety and/or structural concerns”. The visual inspections found twelve bridges owned and operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad to be in severe or poor condition indicating either a structural or safety concern that requires further investigation subsequent action by Norfolk Southern.[1]

While the City has made this independent bridge safety report readily available to the public, we understand that Norfolk Southern Railway has led its own inspection, but those official findings have not yet been shared with the community. Please share your findings with City immediately and meet with local leadership to discuss the reports and talk through any concerns.

The findings highlighted by the City’s report are troubling to me, and have led us to call on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to conduct its own independent, federal audit and inspection of Binghamton’s railroad bridges. If these visual concerns detailed in the City’s report are indeed indicative of larger structural or safety issues, it is Norfolk Southern’s duty to act swiftly to protect the community. We look forward to hearing how you plan to work with the City to address any matters of safety and call on you to fully cooperate with any related FRA inquiries. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.