Norfolk Southern’s push for profits compromised safety, workers say

Norfolk Southern’s push for profits compromised safety, workers say

The New York Times reports:

Norfolk Southern once had so few accidents and injuries that it won the rail industry’s prestigious E.H. Harriman safety award for 23 years in a row until it was retired in 2012. But in the last decade, the company has gone from an industry leader to a laggard.

The rate at which its trains are involved in accidents and its workers are injured on the job has soared, putting it at or near the bottom on those safety measures among the country’s four largest freight railroads. Employees, former workers and some rail experts blame decisions by executives to cut thousands of jobs and put pressure on employees to speed up deliveries in a drive to bolster profits.

Lance Johnston is among the critics. Mr. Johnston was a Norfolk Southern engineer, or train driver, in the St. Louis area for over 25 years until he was fired after a dispute in 2021 with his manager about problems with a train’s brakes.

That July, he said, he started a shift at the A.O. Smith rail yard in Granite City, Ill., just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, and found that his locomotive had defective brakes. After notifying a supervisor of the problem, Mr. Johnston said, he was told to use the locomotive, even though the defect was in violation of Norfolk Southern regulations and could, he said, make it hard to control the train and even lead to a derailment.

“When the equipment’s defective, the equipment’s defective,” he said in an interview last week. “You stop what you’re doing, and you fix it.”

Norfolk Southern’s operations have been under federal scrutiny since one of its trains carrying hazardous substances derailed in February in East Palestine, Ohio. Mr. Johnston said he believed that the operations had really begun deteriorating about four years ago, around the time the company said it would adopt efficiency measures known in the industry as precision scheduled railroading. He said the cutbacks meant there were not enough people to repair and maintain trains. [Continue reading…]

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