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Colorado lawmakers say train safety legislation coming after derailment near Pueblo

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Joe Mueller

(The Center Square) – Colorado Senate Democrats say new legislation to address railroad safety is coming following a train derailment north of Pueblo that left a semi-trailer truck driver dead.

The Colorado State Patrol posted photographs of Sunday’s accident, which closed I-25 in both directions, on its social media account. Photographs show a number of train cars transporting coal went off a BNSF railway. Another photograph shows the bridge over the highway collapsed onto the semi-trailer truck.

The truck’s driver, a 60-year-old man, was trapped in the accident and died, according to several media reports.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Faith Winter, D-Broomfield, and Sens. Lisa Cutter, D-Littleton, Nick Hinrichsen, D-Pueblo, Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, released a joint statement Sunday night on the accident.

“As Senators who have placed a heightened focus on transportation issues in both the legislature and our private careers, we are disappointed, but not surprised by today’s derailment in northern Pueblo County,” the statement said. “At this time, we do not know the cause or the extent of economic and infrastructure damage. More importantly, we are desperately hoping for news of the safety of all transportation workers involved in this incident. Sadly, this event is not surprising.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg posted information on the start of the investigation into the derailment on social media Sunday night.

“In touch with Gov. [Jared] Polis and have been briefed by Federal Railroad and Federal Highway Administrations on a BNSF coal train derailment and bridge collapse … ,” Buttigieg posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “U.S. Department of Transportation staff are en route … State and local authorities are leading the immediate emergency response and we will be ready to help in any way needed to support a swift return to normal use for the highway and rail routes affected.”

Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement the state cannot begin the process to reopen I-25 until approval from the federal government.

"We cannot begin our work to reopen the highway until the National Transportation Safety Board clears us to proceed and I urged Secretary Buttigieg to allow us to conduct debris removal as soon as possible," he said. "It is estimated that the debris removal phase could take as long as 48 hours, but I am ensuring that we are doing everything we can to complete it more quickly, including beginning preparations now so we can begin as soon as we are allowed to and save precious hours."

The General Assembly's Transportation Legislative Review Committee earlier this month made railroad safety a priority for next year’s legislative session, according to the senators' statement. It wants a focus on limiting train length, increasing safety inspections and including detection technology to immediately identify train defects.

“Efforts on this legislation began in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous hazardous material train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in February of this year,” the statement said. “Through the aftermath and investigation of that derailment, it became clear that our commercial rail transportation network has been subjected to ever increasing risk of accidents, with ever increasing severity when they do occur.”

The governor added: "“Our administration has been working for months to position Colorado to take advantage of the safety and rail investments that Congress and President Biden made possible through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Sadly, those improvements come too late to prevent this incident but it’s clear that federal funds for rail support are critical for Colorado."