La Coalition Rail Safety Campaign Travels to Washington D.C.

Members Go to Washington DC

Members of La Coalition Rail Safety Campaign traveled to the nation’s capital in November to  meet face-to-face with legislators about rail safety as well as parents’ right to know if their child’s school could be negatively impacted by a rail-related hazmat incident like the one in East Palestine, Ohio.

In that February incident, vinyl chloride in five tankers burned in a plume of smoke that released deadly phosgene gas into the air, water, and soil in East Palestine and over the border in Pennsylvania. Several of the unprepared schools are now suing Norfolk Southern for negligence related to this catastrophe.

Hazmat-related incidents specific to the rail transport of hazardous cargo could harm more than 5.7 million schoolchildren attending 14,800 schools nationwide, according to campaign members. In Chicago alone, 77,000 kids at risk.

Despite the public’s right to know, mandated by Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986, most parents have no idea their children’s health and safety are threatened in this way.

Furthermore, emergency response is sorely underfunded and understaffed. The director of McHenry County’s Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) estimated it would take eight paid staff a minimum of two years to identify and plan a four-corner evacuation for each school in that county. The Lake County, Illinois, LEPC has only three paid staff. Some states have only a single LEPC. Making the situation worse, fire departments depend more and more on volunteers to fight giant infernos like the one in East Palestine.  

Productive meetings 

"I was impressed at the knowledge some Congressional staff members had on the issue and appalled at the lack of information possessed by other Congressional staff. More work needs to be done!" said Gloria Charland (Illinois).

"We have a strong team and accomplished a lot in a short amount of time," said Sarah Zarling (Wisconsin). “We are always looking ahead to further our progress and the important work to be done.”

Kreschendalyn Backus (Texas) said, "It was exhilarating to be on sacred ground, knowing this is where change can happen. I had a hand in making it happen! I can only pray that the people who work in those buildings every day feel the same."

What you can do about rail safety

Please contact your Congressional representatives. Ask them to:

  1. Work with federal agencies in addressing the national issue of school safety and the need to for emergency response and evacuation planning specific to rail-related hazmat incidents.
  2. Collaborate with labor unions to make trains safe.


Photo by: Gerri Songer