COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's transportation budget went into effect at the beginning of July. The budget contains several new measures on rail safety in Ohio.

One goal is to have emergency measures in place to avoid another East Palestine train derailment that happened in February. However, the requirement that all trains carrying freight have at least two people on board has faced some legal challenges in court. 

What You Need To Know

  • The transportation budget was signed into law at the end of March, but went into effect on July 1, 2023

  • The Association of American Railroads is challenging language regarding a two-man crew operating freight trains in court

  • DeWine has previously said that he believes a two-person crew will work together while one person focuses on safety and the other navigates the train

The governor signed the budget into law at the end of March. 

"This includes the requirement of having two person crews on trains," Gov. Mike DeWine. 

DeWine believes a two-person crew will allow one person to focus on safety while the other person navigates the train. In a previous press conference, he said in an emergency situation the individuals can work together to avoid a future derailment and solve problems. However, The Association of American Railroads is challenging the provision in court.

The group filed the lawsuit on June 29, 2023. 

It argues under the federal Regional Reorganization Act that individual state legislatures don't have the power to mandate minimum crew sizes. The complaint filed states railroad companies should be able to make that decision, and that a single-person crew can safely operate on a railway.

John Esterly, who is the state legislative chairman at brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said railroad companies have voluntarily used two-person crews for extra safety in Ohio for a long time. He said the new provision in the budget doesn't change much, but it could help lead Ohio to fix their safety net for train operations — especially after the train derailment in East Palestine in February.

"I think generally speaking, ... East Palestine was kind of a bellwether moment for for Ohio in terms of rail safety," Esterly said. "I think it shed a lot of light on some of the complaints and concerns that rail labor had expressed over the past five to 10 years with changing operational models in the in the major railroads here." 

Esterly said a lawsuit filed against the two-man crew provision is not a new lawsuit. He said it has been filed previously in other states across the country and could be handled differently each time. 

"The arguments they make in the lawsuit are the same ones they make every time," Esterly said. "Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of judicial clarity on the matter. It's been challenged at the circuit court level. In some cases, the states have won. In some cases, the railroads have won. It's just going to have to be, you know, played out in the Ohio support system, and we'll see what happens with it." 

Meanwhile, the transportation budget will also would boost fines and increase the amount of rail-car inspections for trains across Ohio.