Schumer calls for safety procedures

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer arrives at the old courthouse in Fonda Friday for a news conference on limousine and train safety. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

FONDA — In light of the recent stretch limousine crash in Schoharie County, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called for federal safety procedures for such limousines and enforced regulation for trains carrying oil and other hazardous materials.

Schumer said in a news conference here Friday that stretch limousines are not regulated by the federal government because they “fall through the cracks”–they are neither buses nor cars. He said he is urging the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the recent crash that killed 20 people as soon as possible and suggest regulations which can be written into law.

He said that when stretch limos are constructed from other vehicles, they might not have such safety features as roll bars, airbags and seatbelts.

Schumer said both police and the NTSB should work together to investigate the crash, something onlookers at the press conference said is now occurring. Schumer said he hopes the NTSB will have recommendations within three months.

The senator said he is also concerned that the federal Department of Transportation has said it will not implement the section of the Fixing America’s Surface Transport Act of 2015 requiring trains carrying high-hazard flammable loads such as crude oil or other hazardous materials to have Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes by 2023. Such systems more effectively slow or stop trains and their cars, reducing the risk that cars behind the engine will pile up behind it.

“Though one accident can create a huge peril” as trains travel through communities, the freight carrier CSX has said the implementation of the braking system is too costly, he said. Whether the system is implemented by law depends on the cost-benefit analysis.

Schumer complained that CSX used $5 billion in profits to buy back some of its stock, creating a financial boon for rich stockholders, instead of putting safety first. “Why in God’s name do we reduce safety?” he asked.

The Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes are different from a system being implemented on all rail lines that would slow or stop a train if the engineer should lose control of it–for example, an engineer having a heart attack.

Asked if it would be safer to transport oil by pipeline, Schumer said it would be safer but “building a pipeline is a long and cumbersome process.”

Questioned about the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istambul, Schumer said, “It looks like this was brutal” and involved “higher-up Saudis.”

He asserted that President Donald Trump has been “too slow to get moving” on this case. “The U.S. has to be the moral leader in the world,” he said.

Asked about what effect the contentious Judge Brett Kavanaugh hearings would have on the midterm elections, Schumer said, “Not much.” Kavanaugh was confirmed as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court after a cliffhanger vote, in which one Republican senator voted no and one Democrat yes.

“The number one issue in the midterms is health care, more affordable health care,” he said.