Federal regulators promise safety reviews at all major freight railroads

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Federal Railroad Administration recently completed a review of Norfolk Southern’s safety culture in the wake of the disaster The fiery derailment in February in Ohio, and officials plan to conduct similar investigations at all major freight railroads over the next year.

FRA head, Administrator Amit Bose, said in a recent letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that in addition to individual reports on Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Kansas City, the agency would also produce an industry-wide report Report on common issues and trends.

Rail unions have expressed concern that the operational changes the railroads have made over the past six years have made the trains, which haul dangerous materials and goods of all kinds across the country, more dangerous.

The unions point to the deep cuts in the workforce of the railways in connection with the increasing dependence on them longer trains, have increased the risk of security problems. They say inspections are rushed, preventative maintenance may be neglected, and overworked employees are more likely to tire.

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Federal regulators said safety data had not changed enough to show the railroads’ new operating model was unsafe. Figures show that the accident rate per million miles traveled by freight trains has risen from 15,572 to 16,695 over the past decade, although the total number of incidents has fallen as railroads carried fewer freight. The number of accidents within freight yards also worsened from 11,044 in 2013 to 15,517 last year.

Concerns have also been raised about the safety of today’s long trains, which routinely travel more than two miles. Bose said that the FRA recently warned Railways must be careful when assembling long trains to reduce the risk of derailments.

Freight railroads prefer longer trains because they can transport the same amount of freight with fewer personnel and locomotives.

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Brian Ashcraft

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