After the East Palestine train derailment, are railroads any safer?

Five months after the East Palestine train derailment, Norfolk Southern has taken steps to improve safety, but union officials and railroad workers remain unsure if the freight industry is heading in the right direction.

Promises of a safer industry: Norfolk Southern CEO Alan H. Shaw emphasized on the commitment to becoming the “gold standard” of safety in the freight industry.
* A group with experience in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is appointed as an independent safety consultant, and a six-point safety plan has been enacted.
* Even though the number of derailments have decreased, the number of accidents per miles traveled has risen significantly in the past decade.

Drafting new safety laws: In response to the derailment, the Railway Safety Act of 2023 has been introduced with bipartisan support.
* The bill includes a mandate for a two-person crew minimum on certain freight trains.
* Although CEO Shaw did not explicitly support this mandate, he did voice his overall support for the bill’s intent to enhance rail safety.

Reduced crew sizes: Modern technology has diminished the need for larger crews, leading to proposals for only one engineer onboard.
* A proposed solution suggests an engineer onboard assisted by a “ground-based conductor”, who is not physically onboard but in proximity.
* Concerns from long-time rail workers relate to the isolation and lack of immediate assistance in case of an emergency or a derailment.

Increasing train lengths and weights: In the past decade, Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) was adopted for efficiency leading to streamlining of operations and layoffs.
* Trains became longer and heavier, while time for maintenance, inspections, and training decreased.
* Employees believe these changes made incidents like the East Palestine derailment inevitable.

Company response: Despite skepticism from employees, CEO Shaw commended the company’s response to East Palestine derailment.
* The company provided over $64 million to the community and assisted more than 10,000 families post-derailment.
* Shaw insists on continuing investment and participation in community recovery, promising to “do the next right thing” each day.

View original article on NPR

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