To Prevent More ‘Catastrophic Derailments,’ Rail Workers Outline Plan for Immediate Reforms

Three weeks after the lives of East Palestine, Ohio residents were upended by a fiery wreck involving a Norfolk Southern-owned train overloaded with hazardous materials, rail 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 statement, Railroad Workers United (RWU) pointed to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) newly published preliminary report on the February 3 crash and subsequent burnoff of vinyl chloride and other carcinogenic chemicals, which suggests that an overheated wheel bearing likely caused the train to derail. The inter-union alliance of rail workers also cited NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, who said Thursday at a press conference: “This was 100% preventable. We call things accidents—there is no accident. Every single event that we investigate is preventable.”

RWU, which has previously highlighted how industry-led deregulation and Wall Street-backed policies such as “precision-scheduled railroading” have made the U.S. rail system more dangerous, said Friday that “Class 1 freight rail carriers, including Norfolk Southern, have prioritized profits over safety, cutting maintenance, equipment inspections, and personnel in all crafts while increasing the average train size to three miles or more.”

In the words of RWU co-chair Gabe Christenson: “Railroad workers experience firsthand every day the dangers inherent in this style of railroading. It has impacted their safety and health, state of mind, and lives on and off the job.”

“Limits on train lengths and weights are necessary to prevent catastrophic derailments.”

Jason Doering, general secretary of RWU, echoed Christenson’s message, saying: “Every day we go to work, we have serious concerns about preventing accidents like the one that occurred in Ohio. As locomotive engineers, conductors, signal maintainers, car inspectors, track workers, dispatchers, machinists, and electricians, we experience the reality that our jobs are becoming increasingly dangerous due to insufficient staffing, inadequate maintenance, and a lack of oversight and inspection.”

“We recognize,” Doering added, “that limits on train lengths and weights are necessary to prevent catastrophic derailments.”

One week ago, RWU made the case for nationalization, arguing that the U.S. “can no longer afford private ownership of the railroads; the general welfare demands that they be brought under public ownership.”


Wall Street Caused the East Palestine Crisis – Interview with RWU’s Matt Weaver

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