SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson issued a statement regarding the Norfolk Southern Corp., train derailment that occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, in February. Ferguson, whose union represents workers in the railroad industry said, “the greatest threat to the American railroad industry and the communities with which it intersects is Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). The changes PSR has brought since its inception in 2017 have only served to make executives and Wall Street shareholders richer, while the risk to employees and the public has become greater.”

PSR is a cost-cutting strategy that seeks to streamline rail operations by lengthening trains while cutting the workforce. The train that derailed on February 3 was 9,300 feet long and weighed 18,000 tons and had about 150 cars.

According to union officials, years of cost-cutting and staff reductions within the freight rail industry have led to an increase in the rate of derailments and fostered and increasingly unsafe environment for workers and the public.

In a letter sent to Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, President Greg Regan urged the FRA to require the seven major Class I railroads to adopt the Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS) to allow employees to report “close call” safety incidents without fear of repercussion. “We firmly believe that mandatory participation in this program will create a safer freight rail system and identify potential safety issues before they lead to dangerous catastrophes.”

On February 27, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called on all Class I railroads to sign up within the week for the C3RS system. In a letter to all major U.S. freight rail companies Buttigieg said he “expects the industry to work in tandem with Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve safety, strengthen accountability and prevent future disasters.”

Although Buttigieg is currently “asking” the railroads to join, he said his department is taking steps to make the program mandatory.
A Senate committee has asked the CEO of Norfolk Southern to testify under oath about the train derailment in Ohio. The hearing will be hosted by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Chairman Tom Carper.

“The accident has been deemed 100 percent preventable,” said Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer. “Norfolk Southern owes the American people some answers to some very important questions.” ■