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Recent South Norfolk Profit and Rise in Accident Rate

 

The rate of accidents in his Southern, Norfolk, Ohio, which operated derailed trains in Palestine, has increased each year for the past four years, the company's presentation said. Gene J. Pusker/Associated Press

When Norfolk Southern, one of North America's largest railroad companies, reported record operating profits last month, the company's CEO, Alan H. Shaw, said the company's service was "at best." I was. said to shareholders. It's over 2 years old for him. "

About a week later, one of his freight trains in eastern Ohio derailed in Palestine, forcing controlled burning with toxic chemicals and the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

The accident underscores that despite the freight rail company becoming significantly more profitable in recent years, serious accidents still occur regularly on the 140,000 miles of track that make up its network. remind me. gain. gave to me

According to a recent company presentation, Norfolk Southern's accident rate has increased over the past four years. That record is getting worse as executives at Norfolk Southern and other railroads tell Wall Street investors that keeping costs down can boost profit margins. At the same time, railway companies are lobbying against new rules aimed at making trains safer.

Norfolk Southern, which made more than $3 billion last year, has invested nearly $2 billion of his in railroads and businesses from 2021, which is his third increase as much as we invested in railroads and operations. Other major railroad companies have also paid shareholders billions of dollars, outpacing the entire stock market over the past decade.

“For years, railroads have battled all sorts of basic safety regulations based on the claim that it costs too much to save our lives. Information on air and water. Enough."

Criticism of the railroad for putting profits ahead of other concerns reflects the frustration of railroad union members who nearly went on strike last year. , says it has become difficult or impossible to take time off. Congress and President Biden imposed a deal that included wage increases, but not the paid leave policy that workers wanted to avoid going on strike.

Government agencies say the air in Eastern Palestine is now safe to breathe and residents can go home. Still, many people have expressed skepticism and anger at railroads and government officials. Five of his derailed tank cars were carrying his PVC. Vinyl chloride is a raw material for plastics and can release hydrogen chloride and other toxic chemicals when burned.



The Norfolk Southern freight train will pass through Eastern Palestine this week. His 149 train derailed on Feb. 3. Jean J. Pusker/Associated Press

Norfolk Southern says it will provide financial support to residents and businesses in East Palestine and work to clean up the area. "We are here and will remain here for as long as necessary to ensure your safety and help restore and prosper East Palestine," Shaw wrote in the letter.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the fire derailed 38 cars and damaged 12 more. Eleven of the derailed trains were carrying dangerous goods. The agency said video from a nearby house captured the moment a wheel bearing overheated and failed just before the train derailed.

Safety experts say there are many open questions about what caused the accident and whether better rail safety policies and more burdensome government regulations could have prevented the accident. get.

These questions include: Has Norfolk Southern installed enough heat detectors on their trucks? Were those sensors working correctly? Could there be more damage to the case? The company says it wants to run longer trains to improve efficiency. He had his 149 coaches on board the derailed train. Federal regulators classify trains with more than 150 cars as "extremely long."

Ian Naish, a railroad safety consultant and former investigator for the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, said, "Running longer, heavier, and faster trains without corresponding adjustments to safety protocols poses risks. will be bigger and the margins will be narrower." He said.

"Norfolk Southern carefully monitors our trains and infrastructure to identify potential hazards and invests approximately $1 billion each year to maintain our infrastructure," Norfolk Southern said in a statement. get.

Norfolk Southern referred questions about train lengths to the American Railroad Association, a freight trade association in Washington. "Trains of similar length have been operating safely for decades, and the industry's safety record has improved dramatically in the same decades," association spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek said in an email. I understand."

Rail industry analyst Tony Hatch said stressing Norfolk Southern's shareholder payouts was "silly" and said the company's maintenance investments were "strong and very stable." Stated. He added that discussing safety should also consider why US regulators are not pushing for the new automated train inspection technology introduced in Canada.



Paramedics were working at the derailment site of the Norfolk Southern Railroad in Michigan on Thursday. Mandy Wright/Detroit Free Press via AP

Railroads are expected to play an increasingly important role in North America's infrastructure, especially as the Biden administration and businesses seek to address climate change. Freight trains can move goods at a lower cost while emitting fewer greenhouse gases than heavy trucks. But trains have vulnerabilities that can sometimes lead to catastrophes. In 2013, an oil train derailed, causing an explosion that magnetically burned much of downtown Layche, Quebec.

Some railroad unions and critics say the accident in Ohio is further evidence that cost-cutting in the railroad industry has gone too far.

Chris Smith, Iowa general counsel for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, says freight rail companies are hiring fewer safety inspectors even as they run longer trains. said there is. he said yes. said to have decreased. Smith told lawmakers in Iowa that the railroad company is trying to pass a bill that would ban trains from running more than 8,500 feet (about 1.6 miles).

"Ever since railroad companies started running longer, bigger trains, there has been a marked increase in train derailments and serious accidents," Smith said. "We used to run bigger trains, but they weren't as big as today."

Since the February 3 derailment in Ohio, some lawmakers and activists have cited his 2015 safety rule adopted by the Obama administration as an example of the changes needed to make railroads safer. I'm here. I am here. I am here.

This regulation required the use of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes (E.C.P.) to slow down the entire train simultaneously, rather than individual carriages. The rule applied to specific "highly flammable trains" that had 20 or more carriages in a row filled with liquids such as crude oil.

The regulation was introduced in hopes of doing away with air brakes to make trains carrying crude oil safer. This is because the boom in shale drilling across the country has led to an increase in accidents and explosions associated with these trains.

However, after lobbying by the railroad industry, the Trump administration scrapped the rule in 2018.

Jennifer Homendy, who heads the National Transportation Safety Board, said even if the rules were in force, they didn't apply to the Norfolk Southern railroad, which derailed in eastern Palestine.

“I am familiar with the regulations and can say that there was no impact on this train,” he said Homendy. "Those brakes wouldn't have been on this one."

Railroad companies say the Obama-era brake rules themselves are problematic. "Several U.S. railroad companies are using his E.C.P. E.C.P.

Still, other changes seem to have had an impact. In a 2016 report, the Department of Transportation's inspector general highlighted weaknesses in federal railroads' dangerous goods surveillance. In the next five years to September 2021, government inspectors have identified about 13,000 violations related to hazardous materials. That's about a third of what it was in the last five years.

Another Obama-era railroad rule helped. This policy required the use of more powerful vehicles to transport crude oil and other explosive liquids.

According to the list provided by N.T.S.B., his three cars derailed in East Palestine were of the more powerful type. What he found contained propylene glycol, a chemical used in many products such as medicines, antifreeze, and perfumes, but was found not guilty. According to the list of vehicles without specifications reinforced with the same materials were compromised. Unprotected vehicles also contained vinyl chloride and benzene.

“Upgrading our tanker truck has made a big difference,” says environmental lawyer Boyles.

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