FACT CHECK: Is the Trump Administration To Blame for the Ohio Train Derailment?

February 23, 2023

Claim: The Trump administration dismantled Obama-era rail safety regulations that would have prevented the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Who said it: The White House, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, CBS News, ABC News.

Why it matters: After weeks of silence following a Feb. 3 train derailment that "basically nuked a town" with toxic chemicals, the White House is trying to pass the buck to former president Donald Trump. The Biden administration claims the derailment would have never occurred had the Trump administration not scrapped rules that would have required new electric braking technology on trains carrying large quantities of hazardous materials.

But the Biden administration has thus far failed to reinstate those rules, which would not have applied to the derailed train, anyway.

Context: The White House is going on the offensive against Republican criticisms over its lack of interest in the disaster. White House spokesman Andrew Bates demanded on Wednesday that Republicans apologize to East Palestine residents for "selling them out to rail industry lobbyists."

But the Biden administration has been largely absent during the crisis. Instead of visiting Ohio, the president made a surprise trip to Ukraine this week. Buttigieg, meanwhile, criticized construction workers for being too white and prioritized his "personal time" throughout February, choosing instead to lash out at reporters who questioned him about his response to the crisis.

Buttigieg finally visited East Palestine on Thursday, but only after Trump visited the town the day prior. The scandal-plagued transportation secretary tweeted Wednesday that his critics were cynically trying to divert attention away from the scrapped braking regulations.

Analysis: It is true that the Trump administration scrapped electronic braking regulations for trains carrying large amounts of hazardous liquids. But National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Jennifer Homendy, who was appointed by Biden and unanimously confirmed by the Senate, said the rule wouldn’t have applied to the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 3.

"PLEASE STOP SPREADING MISINFORMATION," Homendy pleaded in a Feb. 16 tweet thread.

"Some are saying the ECP (electronically controlled pneumatic) brake rule, if implemented, would've prevented this derailment. FALSE—here's why," Homendy wrote. "The ECP braking rule would've applied ONLY to HIGH HAZARD FLAMMABLE TRAINS. The train that derailed in East Palestine was a MIXED FREIGHT TRAIN containing only 3 placarded Class 3 flammable liquids cars."

"This means even if the rule had gone into effect, this train wouldn't have had ECP brakes," she concluded.

Furthermore, the Biden administration has done little to revive the braking rule, which would have mandated technology that would enable all rail cars on a single train system to apply brakes simultaneously.

Federal officials told the Washington Post that the Biden administration tried to restart the rule, only to drop the effort after a cost-benefit analysis showed the cost-prohibitive regulation would produce little real-world benefits.

In seeking a Republican scapegoat, Buttigieg has also falsely accused Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) of signing an October 2021 letter in support of rail deregulations that "would reduce visual track inspections."

But the letter actually questioned why the Federal Railroad Administration was allowing automated track inspection procedures to expire, which would have updated the "half-century-old" visual track inspection regulations. The letter called for testing to facilitate "a better understanding of the optimal balance between [automated track inspection] and visual inspection," a proposal supported by the Transportation Department's inspector general.

"First @SecretaryPete was MIA on the derailment," Rubio said Tuesday. "Then he lies to media claiming my 2021 letter calling for more track inspections was a letter calling for deregulation. He is an incompetent who is focused solely on his fantasies about his political future & needs to be fired.

Verdict: We rate this claim 4 Clintons.
clinton illustration clinton illustration clinton illustration clinton illustration