‘Unacceptable’: Key provisions to protect children from blocked crossings move forward in Senate

Senator Warnock’s additions to the Railway Safety Act come on the heels of InvestigateTV/ProPublica investigation

(InvestigateTV) — Two critical provisions designed to protect children from stalled trains that block pathways to schools across the nation were successfully added to legislation making its way through the United States Senate. The provisions, introduced by Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock, (D-GA), were added into the Railway Safety Act of 2023. On Wednesday the Senate Commerce committee voted in favor of the bill, as amended, with bipartisan support.

Warnock’s team called the move a major victory and an important first step, with the senator citing the recent reporting of InvestigateTV/ProPublica, which detailed blocked crossings that put children in cities and towns nationwide at risk.

In an interview with InvestigateTV, Warnock said the video featured in the investigation, which highlighted children crawling under and over stalled train cars to get to school in Hammond, Indiana, was “unbelievable.”

The new provisions include two specific actions related to blocked crossings. One would modify an existing grant program InvestigateTV reported on previously, with $3 billion in funding allocated to eliminate or improve at-grade crossings. Warnock’s amendment would provide special attention to railway crossings within a mile of a school or along a school bus route.

“This disproportionately impacts certain communities, the most marginalized members of our community,” Warnock told InvestigateTV. “To see children throwing backpacks over a train or wondering if it’s safe to crawl under a train on their way to school? I mean, it’s unacceptable. I think it’s important that more people become aware of this. I think a lot of people aren’t aware of this.”

The other provision added to the bill would create a process to allow community members to directly communicate blocked crossings to rail carriers. Right now, the Federal Railroad Administration collects complaints about the issue from the public, but it has no authority to regulate blockages.

“If these large railway corporations are able to act with impunity and no penalties, no accountability, this is what you get,” Warnock told InvestigateTV. “We have to hold them accountable.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY), we’re told, called for swift passage of the Railway Safety Act, with a floor vote on the legislation anticipated soon.

Our original report on blocked crossings was produced in partnership with ProPublica, including reporters Topher Sanders and Dan Schwartz with research contributions from Ruth Baron and Gabriel Sandoval.

Joce Sterman

Joce Sterman

Joce is a national investigative reporter focused on accountability reporting on the failures of government agencies, product flaws and other transparency issues.