Three weeks into Eastern Palestine life, Ohioans have been left shattered by a fiery wreck involving a train owned by Norfolk Southern overload materials, railroad union leaders on Friday implored federal regulators and lawmakers to “focus on the primary reasons for the derailment and take immediate action to prevent future disasters.”
In a statementRailroad Workers United (RWU) highlighted the new publication from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) preliminary report on the February 3 accident and the subsequent combustion of vinyl chloride and other cancer-causing chemicals, suggesting that an overheated wheel bearing likely derailed the train. The inter-union railroad alliance also quoted NTSB president Jennifer Homendy, who said Thursday at a press conference: “It was 100% preventable. We call things accidents, there are no accidents. Every event we investigate is preventable.”
RWU, which previously Underline how industry-led deregulation and Wall Street-backed policies such as “precision railroading” have made the U.S. rail system more dangerous, said Friday that “Class 1 freight rail carriers, including Norfolk Southern , prioritized profits over safety, reducing maintenance, equipment inspections and personnel in all trades while increasing the average train size to three miles or more.”
In the words of RWU Co-Chairman Gabe Christenson: “Railway workers face the dangers inherent in this style of railroading on a daily basis. It has impacted their safety and health, their mindset and their lives on the job. work and outside.”
“Limits on the length and weight of trains are necessary to avoid catastrophic derailments.”
Jason Doering, RWU General Secretary, echoed Christenson’s message, saying, “Every day we go to work, we have serious concerns about preventing accidents like the one that happened in Ohio. . workers, dispatchers, machinists and electricians, we find that our jobs are becoming increasingly dangerous due to understaffing, inadequate maintenance and lack of monitoring and inspection. »
“We recognize,” Doering added, “that limits on train length and weight are necessary to avoid catastrophic derailments.”
A week ago, RWU pleaded for nationalization, arguing that the United States “can no longer afford private ownership of railroads; the general welfare demands that they become public property”.
Absent such a sweeping transformation, which remains a long way off given the current state of the embattled American labor movement, the alliance on Friday demanded that federal agencies and Congress act quickly to “check” Norfolk Southern and d other rail companies maximizing profits. who fought regulations, laid off workers and bought billions of dollars in stocks rather than investing in employees and safety improvements.
Specifically, RWU called on regulators and legislators to:
- Ensuring sufficient staff to carry out the work properly, efficiently and safely, with all trains operating with a minimum of two people;
- Limit the length and weight of trains to a reasonable level to mitigate the increased likelihood of breakdowns, train separations and derailments;
- Implement adequate and appropriate maintenance and inspections of locomotives and wagons, tracks and signals, wayside detectors and other infrastructure; And
- Standardize sufficient training and time off without the hassle of draconian attendance policies.
Of those measures, only a proposed rule requiring two-person crews…describe by RWU as a loophole – was included in the plan the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled on Tuesday to hold railroads accountable and protect the well-being of workers and gated communities.
The DOT has also encouraged rail carriers to voluntarily grant sick leave. Norfolk Southern – under intense scrutiny and backlash amid the ongoing disaster in eastern Palestine –agreed Wednesday to provide up to one week of paid sick leave per year to about 3,000 track maintenance workers.
But because the Biden administration and Congress recently imposed a contract with no paid sick leave for railway workers who threatened to go on strike, the vast majority still lack this basic lifesaving benefit, as do millions of private sector workers in other industries who are also awaiting legislation to solve the problem.
Calling the DOT’s plan insufficient, RWU said on Tuesday that “basic railroad workers can diagnose and fix problems” and urged the U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg implement “some of our solutions”.
RWU Treasurer Hugh Sawyer reiterated that call on Friday.
“We demand that the railroad be run in a safe, efficient and professional manner, not as a ‘cash cow’ for Wall Street investors and billionaires,” Sawyer said. “Much of what is wrong with the rail industry today can be fixed easily and quickly by taking action on what is outlined above. We demand action NOW.”