Since my retreat to the bucolic Eastern Shore of Maryland, I have had limited interest in commenting railroad industry matters. Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ian Jefferies’ Aug. 24, 2023
Author: William C. Keppen, Jr.
The horrific train derailment and release of hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 3, 2023 prompted a call from the US Department of Transportation for Class I railroads to join
It will be months, 18-24 perhaps, before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) releases its final report on the Norfolk Southern (NS) train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. One should not try
Having worked in the industry for 50 years, if you consider my postretirement involvement, I will be the first to admit that today’s railroads are, in many respects, much safer than they were when I was first employed as a locomotive fireman in 1970. Credit for that goes to railroad management, employees and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). However, in my opinion, greater progress has been impeded for economic reasons or organization priorities—more simply put, the pursuit of self interests. Having said that, it’s time to move to the point of this article.
Date: Sept. 27, 2019. News media outlets report potential life threatening situations with three different Class I railroad freight trains blocking railroad grade crossings, sometimes for hours at a time. These events seem to be increasing, both in number and length of time. Americans are not just inconvenienced. Lives are being place at great risk when a blocked crossing impedes emergency service providers from assisting people in need of help.
A recently issued arbitration decision directs New Jersey Transit (NJT) to re-employ Thomas Gallagher, the locomotive engineer who in 2016 ran an NJT commuter train into a bumping post and onto the platform at Hoboken Terminal. While the arbitrator found that the engineer “… bore some responsibility for the crash,” she also found that, “… NJ Transit had failed to follow its own procedures for screening engineers in his case.”
“According to the BNSF employment records for the 52-year old male striking train engineer, a pre-employment physical examination and health questionnaire dated June 28, 1994, identified no significant medical conditions.” Hold that thought.
If one looks at recent developments, the Federal Railroad Administration’s withdrawal of the two-person-crew-minimum NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking), it may seem “logical” to say the march toward one-person crews is accelerating. However, that may be an illusion.
Six out of the seven Class I freight railroads in operating in the U.S. (including CN’s and Canadian Pacific’s subsidiaries) have implemented or are in the process of transitioning to Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). While programs and processes will certainly vary from one railroad to another, all are likely designed around five foundation principles, as defined in 2016 by CP and the late Hunter Harrison during its aborted merger attempt with Norfolk Southern.
What’s the Good News? At least one large Class I freight railroad has finally codified some meaningful fatigue countermeasure provisions with its train operating employees, in an actual written agreement. And, yes, that is Good News, although it has been very slow in coming.