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The US rail industry is setting a safety record amid staff cuts

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Even as railroads operate longer and longer freight trains, sometimes stretching for miles, companies have drastically reduced staffing levels, urging unions to warn that profit-making measures could jeopardize safety, even disasters. to become: ,

More than 22% of jobs on the Union Pacific, CSX, and Norfolk Southern Railroads have been lost since 2017, when CSX introduced a cost-cutting system called the C-Planned Railroad, which was later replicated by other U.S. railroads. The BNSF, the largest U.S. railroad, the only one that has not clearly adopted the model, has yet to cut staff to improve efficiency and stay competitive.

Railways admit that they have reduced staff, extended trains, made other changes to reduce costs, but they are drastic, none of the changes increase the risks. Regulators from the Federal Railway Administration say they are following the changes, but so far the data do not show that the new operating model is unsafe. But the unions argue that the stakes are so high that when the train derails, the new system is risky.

“Every time the wheels go off the rails, it’s like buying a lottery ticket to a big disaster,” said Ason Eason Cox of the Carmen Division of the Transport Communications Union.

The well-planned railroad calls for fewer, longer trains with a mix of freight to reduce the number of crew locomotives needed to deliver millions of tons of goods across the country. Railways are also running their trains on a more scheduled schedule now with fewer stops, pickups, and eliminating shorter, less profitable routes.

By increasing the length of trains, railways can reduce overall routes, reduce the number of engines in need of service, and manage fewer workers. Some trains now run more than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers). Union Pacific has announced that the average increase in the maximum length of its train has increased by more than 30% to 9,250 feet, which is 1.75 miles (2.8 kilometers), as the new operating model was launched in 2018. , ին The railway expands the passageways through its entire network. accommodate much longer trains.

The railways say they follow federal regulations for car ավտոմեքեն signaling inspections, that people’s inspections are supplemented by high-tech systems that can track tracks և rail transport for defects.

They also say that security has generally improved over the past five years. All major railways have issued statements defending their safety records, citing investments in their networks.

“I do not see any evidence on the board that our Union Pacific staff is in a hurry, overworked or damaged. I just don’t see it as a statistic, “said Lance Fritz, chief executive of Union Pacific, the country’s second-largest railroad.

CSX officials say that most of the major safety measures, including employee injuries, have been improved by train crashes as it began to use the “precisely planned railroad” operating model.

“We do not carry cargo at the expense of the safety of our employees or the communities in which we operate,” said CSX spokeswoman Cindy Shield.

Peter Defatzia, Democrat Oregon’s chairman of the House Transport and Infrastructure Committee, last week asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the impact of a well-planned railroad on overall safety and industry.

Independent expert David Clark, director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee, said the safety data is indisputable.

“At the moment, I just have not seen anything to prove that it definitely has a negative impact on security,” Clark said.

However, the trade union of the Department of Commerce notes that when inspecting each car on the train, the time of the mechanics was reduced by more than half, from three minutes to only 60 seconds. In addition, staff reductions mean that crews on less-trained trains often carry out those inspections, the group says.

“From the conductor we mostly find things that are obvious,” said Greg Hines, National Legislative Director of the SMART-TD Union, which represents the conductors.

The unions say most of the alarms that run along railway line checkpoints and safety signals have seen their areas grow by 150%, leaving little time for maintenance after completing the required tests.

“Because maintenance is neglected. “Then it ‘s obvious that failures are on the rise,” said Tim Tarant, vice president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signals.

Overtime has also increased, which, according to unions, increases fatigue and the possibility of missing out on safety deficiencies.

The unions acknowledge that part of their mission is to maintain or upgrade staff, but members say they are more motivated by the potential for disasters, such as the derailment of Canada in 2013 that killed 47 people in the town of Lac Megantich. caused millions of dollars. In Granitville, South Carolina, more than 250 people have been treated for toxic chlorine gas from an injury or derailment that killed nine people.

Cassondra Byrd, a former CSX employee, said security concerns forced her to resign after 24 years on the railroad in December, even though she had no other job. As a conductor who operated the remote control in Grand Rapids, Railiard, Michigan, he changed from 150 cars a day to 300 to 350 shifts.

Byrd said some employees missed lunch and bath breaks to continue.

“I was hoping to stay much longer, but if it means my safety, it will not help me if I stay another day, if it means I will not return home,” said Byrd, 45. : – old single mother. “The safety and well-being of the workers have definitely lagged behind production.”

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