Washington, D.C. – Leader Schumer called on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) over a month ago to conduct an intensive audit of all Class I Freight railroads. In a response to his letter, the FRA has announced it will release a report of a broad assessment of Norfolk Southern’ s safety culture and conduct similar assessments of other Class I railroads expeditiously.
The actions of the past few months make it clear that the freight rail industry has perpetuated a culture of cost-cutting and shortcuts that has led to horrific damages in communities, injured workers, and even death. This February, the tragic derailment in East Palestine brought national attention to the clearly escalating safety crisis in the railroad industry. Majority Leader Schumer has been on the frontline of the calls to provide additional guardrails for the rail industry. On April 6th, Leader Schumer called for the FRA – with assistance from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) – to launch an investigation into all Class I freight railroads.
Leader Schumer’s letter to FRA underscored how these companies have prioritized profits over their workers and the communities they service. Railroads have downsized their workforce, rewarded wealthy shareholders and corporate executives through stock buybacks, and introduced automation and as a result, there have been an increasing number of dangerous and hazardous incidents. Over the past five years, Class I freight Railroads have seen over 26,500 accidents and incidents, almost 13,000 injuries, and over 2,750 fatalities attributed to rail incidents. Schumer highlighted that as safety concerns and incidents rose, the industry has simultaneously cut over 30,000 employees – roughly 20%-- from its workforce. This alarming combination of forces, Schumer said, clearly demonstrates the need for a full audit of industry practice.
In a response to Leader Schumer’s letter, FRA Administrator Amit Bose said the agency has completed a “broad assessment of Norfolk Southern Railway’s safety culture, practices, and compliance,” with a report due out in the “near future.” The FRA also announced following Leader Schumer’s request that they will conduct similar assessments on each of the Class I railways – BNSF Railway, CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific Kansas City – with the intention of publishing those reports as well. Finally, the Administration will then make overarching assessments on “issues, trends, and commonalities across all railroads reviewed.” The response from Administrator Bose also noted that each Class I railroad would be asked to “develop corrective actions in response to FRA’s recommendations, and FRA will track those to completion.”
“Years of deregulation and wanton acts of corporate greed have led to an industry that simply does not value safety,” said Leader Schumer. “We cannot allow the railroad companies to continue to prioritize profits over people. These reports by the FRA will be a good first step to identifying the problems that persist in individual companies as well as what endemic problems permeate across the whole industry. I am glad to hear that the Administration is taking this call seriously, and I hope that the rail companies will receive these reports and provide robust plans of actions on how to institute any changes the FRA recommends. We cannot stop this drumbeat until freight rail travel is safer for the workers and the communities they serve.”
These reports – and subsequent changes in safety practices for the rail industry – could potentially save countless lives and provide a safer work experience for thousands of rail employees. Not to mention, help to prevent the nearly weekly derailments that happen across the country. We must work to prevent other communities from going through the same hardship as East Palestine, Ohio.