Assembly Bill 456, a railway safety bill, would have required the length of freight trains not to exceed 7,500 feet, established requirements for installation and operation of wayside detector systems, and required stopped trains to clear railroad crossings upon the approach of emergency vehicles. The bill was designed to decrease the chances of major railway accidents like the one in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this year, but it was vetoed by Governor Lombardo. Nevada Rail Coalition member organizations condemned this veto and are committed to continuing to advocate for rail safety.
“The longer we go without reforming our state’s railroad regulations, the closer we get to experiencing a tragedy like the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. With this legislation, Nevada could have been a leader in railroad safety; now, we run the risk of becoming a national headline in the future,” said Nevada State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Susie Martinez. The Nevada State AFL-CIO is one of the Nevada Rail Coalition’s member organizations.
The bill would have prohibited a railroad company doing business in Nevada from running (or allowing to be run) a work or freight train longer than 7,500 feet on tracks that see 5,000,000 gross tons or more of freight railroad traffic in a year (main lines) or any tracks that branch off from main lines. Jason Doering, Chair and Director of The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD), one of the Nevada Rail Coalition’s member organizations, says this is “aimed to tackle the ongoing risks posed by dangerously long trains”. A longer train means more opportunities for mechanical issues and a longer walk to fix them, an increase in difficulties with radio communications, and in an emergency braking scenario, a drastic increase in the chances of derailment.
“Wayside”, when used in reference to trains, refers to the area around rail tracks within the footprint of the rail, and wayside objects include signals, overhead lines, and crossing gates. A wayside detector is an electronic device that scans passing trains for defects like overheating wheel elements, dragging equipment, excessive height or weight, unbalanced loads, and overheating rail. Doering says wayside detector systems are “proactive tools for identifying rail issues before they become full-blown accidents.”
The bill would have required certain features, distances, and operating procedures for these wayside detector systems. It requires the systems to include a hot box and hot wheel detector (to catch overheating wheel elements), a dragging equipment detector, and an alarm that sounds over an assigned radio frequency. It also requires the systems to be installed no more than 10 miles from each other (or 15 miles, in areas with difficult terrain).
Additionally, the bill requires trains to cut, separate, or otherwise move out of the way of emergency vehicles at railroad crossings, unless it’s impossible to do so due to mechanical failure. Doering says this is to address “consistently blocked crossings.”
In his veto message, Governor Lombardo said that while Nevada certainly doesn’t want to have a major railway disaster similar to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the bill was a “policy overreach” and may not be constitutional. Specifically, he posited that it may run afoul of Supreme Court precedent regarding interstate commerce, referencing the 1945 case Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona.
SMART-TD views this veto as “siding with corporate greed and their bottomless lobbying budgets over safety”. SMART-TD also doesn’t buy the core argument.
“Before the enactment of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) of 1970, the 1945 ruling might have held sway. However, the FRSA directly addressed this antiquated ruling, granting states authority over safety matters and thus superseding the outdated precedent,” SMART-TD said in their statement. “[49 U.S. Code § 20106] empowers states to enforce more stringent safety laws aimed at eliminating or reducing local safety or security hazards… Had AB456 become law, we are confident that Nevada’s Attorney General, Aaron Ford, would have robustly defended this crucial rail safety measure against any legal onslaught by the railroad industry.”
SMART-TD views this veto as a result of the influence of the rail industry. “The Governor’s decision, together with the Nevada Republicans’ unanimous siding with the railroads, signals a disturbing commitment to the railroad lobby over the state’s residents’ safety,” they said in their statement. “Their voting record paints a disturbing picture of their priorities, consistently placing industry profits over safety.”
“Advocacy for rail safety is not merely about laws and regulations; it’s about valuing lives over logistics, communities over commerce. Nevada has the potential to be a trailblazer in the arena of rail safety, paving the way toward a secure future where catastrophic derailments are not just improbable but impossible,” said Doering. “This can only happen if we remain resolute in our mission to build a robust rail system that puts safety first, in every facet, on every track, for every Nevada resident. We refuse to allow Assembly Bill 456’s veto to derail our pursuit of rail safety, and we stand committed to making Nevada synonymous with safe, secure, and progressive rail systems. Our journey may be long, our battles hard-fought, but we will not waver, for every step we take, every law we advocate, and every measure we implement is a testament to our unwavering commitment to safety, responsibility, and progress.” You can hear more from SMART-TD in their video about the bill here.
The Nevada State AFL-CIO also condemned this veto. “We are extremely disappointed by Governor Lombardo’s decision to veto Assembly Bill 456, and we would have expected better from him as someone who has vowed to keep Nevada’s communities safe…. Our rail workers deserve better. Our communities deserve better. I can only hope that one day, we don’t have to experience devastation due to our leaders’ carelessness. The Nevada State AFL-CIO will continue to be a primary advocate for the safety of our workers and our state as a whole,” said Martinez.