Jue. Mar 30th, 2023

Norfolk Southern, the company whose train derailed and released toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, last month, once had the lowest accident rate of any major US rail company. For the past 20 years, Norfolk Southern has has remained practically the same.

A review of safety data by NBC News showed that from 2018 to 2022, Norfolk Southern averaged 0.88 accidents per million miles, which is slightly above the average of the six other Class I freight railroads in the country for the same period.

By contrast, from 2003 to 2007, the other six rail companies averaged 2.26 accidents per million miles, while Norfolk Southern posted a low of 0.96.

Norfolk Southern’s rate has remained relatively flat, even though it has made investments in security systems and technologies at a level similar to its competitors.

As a category, train accidents include derailments, collisions, and other similar incidents involving railway equipment.

Various stakeholders offer different explanations for Norfolk Southern’s stagnant accident rate. Critics point to a shrinking workforce and increased workload, which they say has led to increased employee fatigue and human error as the company tries to boost efficiency and profits. But Norfolk Southern says its accident rate has stayed about the same because its mileage has decreased, changing the ratio. As a gross total, the company says, its number of accidents is down 21% since 2019.

Connor Spielmaker, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, noted that the rail company had fewer derailments in 2022 than in any other year in the past decade, and its employee injury rate has improved by 35% since 2020.

However, union leaders for employees who work for Norfolk Southern say the workforce decline speaks for itself: Norfolk Southern had 18,100 employees at the end of 2021, according to documents it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, facing to more than 30,000 in 2011.

Russell Quimby, who has served as an accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board for more than 20 years, said rail company business has generally recovered since the pandemic shutdowns, but levels in the labor force have remained stagnant since previous reductions.

That has left train workers overwhelmed, he said.

«They’re lucky to get enough rest, so many suffer from chronic fatigue all the time,» Quimby said. «That has a major effect on morale and safety.»

A contract workforce may have played a role in Norfolk Southern’s growing proportion of accidents caused by human error, which rose from nearly 40% of its accidents in 2003 to nearly 60% in 2022, according to data reviewed. by NBC News.

That’s the highest number in the past 20 years and about 10 percentage points higher than the average for major train companies.

However, Norfolk Southern is not an outlier in laying off employees. As investors and shareholders have pressured rail companies to pursue a precision scheduled rail system, an approach that attempts to maximize the number of cars moving within a scheduled schedule, many rail companies have cut back on their workforce. since at least 2016, according to an NBC News analysis of Surface Transportation Board data.

The seven major US rail companies have also increased train lengths in recent years, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in December. One company, whose name is not listed in the report, said the percentage of trains operating nearly two miles in length increased from less than 3% in 2017 to more than 25% in 2021.

Meanwhile, the number of workers in charge of maintaining equipment fell by nearly 40% and train operators by nearly 27% between 2011 and 2021, according to the report.

Elizabeth Repko, GAO’s director of physical infrastructure, said there is some anxiety that longer trains and smaller staff could lead to security lapses. She added that rail unions and inspectors have also raised safety concerns about crews not having the «adequate training» to operate these longer lines and suggested they require more work, so could lead to increased fatigue.

“Having the proper training and not experiencing fatigue are important safety issues that everyone agrees on to make running a train safer,” Repko said.

Jonathon Long, president of the American Rail System Federation union, said in a letter to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this month that Norfolk Southern (which he referred to as «NS») has been on a «quest for more record profits at the sacrifice of security.”

“Management representatives are told to exalt money over the integrity and safety of NS’s track structure and the safety of its employees, due to NS’s cost-cutting business model,” he wrote. Long did not respond to requests for comment.

The union also alleged that Norfolk Southern has increasingly relied on automation and technology, rather than workers, to maintain safety standards.

A Norfolk Southern train derailed in Calhoun County, Alabama, on Thursday.Nathan Young / Geek Alabama

But Spielmaker said Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw is committed to rebuilding the company’s safety culture, committed to working with regulators and continues to invest more than $1 billion a year in new technology, equipment and infrastructure. of security.

In December, he added, the company unveiled a new strategy that incorporates a «holistic approach to measuring success.»

“Part of that is how we manage our workforce, and this announcement follows many months of record hiring at Norfolk Southern to replenish our principal workforce. In the future, in times of economic downturn, instead of furloughing employees, we will train them,” he said.

Shaw told lawmakers while testifying on Capitol Hill last week that he was «deeply sorry» for the accident in eastern Palestine.

Following the derailment, Norfolk Southern announced a six point plan to address security concerns, although it does not change the size of the company’s workforce. Instead, the plan says it will increase investment in technology and join a federal program that allows railroads and employees to confidentially report safety issues.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it has launched a special investigation into Norfolk Southern’s organization and safety culture. Since December 2021, the board said, it has launched five teams of investigators to investigate significant accidents involving Norfolk Southern.

Two of those incidents, including one that killed a Norfolk Southern employee, occurred this month.

Quimby said the investigation could take about a year.

«It’s going to be a lot of work,» he said, «but they will go in and inspect all the different aspects of the railway.»

Por admin