HomeUS News updateHow Norfolk Southern's accident rate compares to other rail companies

How Norfolk Southern’s accident rate compares to other rail companies

Norfolk Southern, the company whose train derailed last month in Ohio’s East Palestine and released toxic chemicals, at one point had the lowest accident rate of all major US train companies, but while other major rail lines Has reduced its accident rate by more than half. Over the past 20 years, Norfolk Southern has remained largely the same.

A review of safety data by NBC News showed that from 2018 to 2022, Norfolk Southern averaged 0.88 accidents per million miles, which is slightly higher than the average for the nation’s six other Category-I freight railroads over the same period.

In contrast, from 2003 to 2007, the other six train companies averaged 2.26 miles per million miles traveled, while Norfolk Southern claimed a low of 0.96.

Norfolk Southern’s rates have been relatively stable, even though it has invested in safety systems and technologies at the same level as its competitors.

As a category, train accidents include derailments, collisions, and other similar incidents involving rail equipment.

Different stakeholders give different explanations for Norfolk Southern’s steady accident rate. Critics point to a shrinking workforce and an increased workload, which they say has led to employee fatigue and human error as the company seeks to increase efficiency and profit. But Norfolk Southern says that while its accident rate has remained roughly the same as its mileage has decreased, the ratio has changed. As a raw total, the company says the number of accidents has declined by 21% since 2019.

Connor Spielmaker, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, noted that the railroad company had fewer derailments in 2022 than any other year in the past decade, and that its employee injury rate improved 35% since 2020. Is.

However, union leaders of employees who work for Norfolk Southern say the decline in workforce numbers speaks for itself: Norfolk Southern had 18,100 employees at the end of 2021, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Accordingly, below 30,000 in 30,000. 2011.

Russell Quimby, who served as a National Transportation Safety Board accident investigator for more than 20 years, said that overall, train companies’ business has returned since the pandemic lockdown, but the workforce has been cut since prior cuts. The level remains stable.

He has overwhelmed the train personnel.

“They’re lucky they get enough rest, so a lot of people are tired all the time,” Quimby said. “It has a big impact on morale and safety.”

According to data reviewed by NBC News, it’s possible that a contracted workforce played a role in the growing share of Norfolk Southern accidents due to human error, rising from about 40% of accidents in 2003 to about 60% in 2022.

This is the highest in the last 20 years and is about 10 per cent higher than the average of major train companies.

However, Norfolk Southern is no outlier in laying off employees. As investors and stockholders have encouraged railroad companies to pursue precision scheduled railroading—an approach that seeks to maximize the number of rail cars running within a set timeline—many train companies have at least has cut its workforce since 2016, according to an NBC News analysis of Surface Transportation Board data.

All seven major US rail companies have also increased the length of trains in recent years, according to a Government Accountability Office report published in December. One company, which was not named in the report, said the percentage of trains running approximately two miles in length is expected to increase from less than 3% in 2017 to more than 25% in 2021.

Meanwhile, the number of workers in charge of equipment maintenance is expected to drop by about 40% and train operators by about 27% from 2011 to 2021, the report said.

Elizabeth Repko, the GAO’s director of physical infrastructure, said there is some concern that longer trains and smaller crews could lead to a reduction in safety. He said rail unions and inspectors have also raised safety concerns about staff not having “proper training” to man these long lines and suggested they require more work which could lead to more fatigue. .

“Proper training and not experiencing fatigue are important safety issues that all agree make train operations much safer,” Repko said.

Jonathan Long, president of the American Rail Systems Federation union, said in a letter to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this month that Norfolk Southern (which he referred to as “NS”) remained on “the quest for more record-breaking profits.” Is. Sacrifice of security.

“Due to NS’s cost-cutting business model, management representatives have been ordered to increase funding on the integrity and safety of NS’s track structure and the safety of its employees,” he wrote. Long did not respond to requests for comment.

The union also alleged that Norfolk Southern relied more on automation and technology, rather than workers, to maintain safety standards.

A Norfolk Southern train derailed Thursday in Calhoun County, Ala.
A Norfolk Southern train derailed in Calhoun County, Ala.Nathan Young / Geek Alabama

But Spielmaker said Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has committed to rebuilding the firm’s safety culture, vowing to work with regulators and invest more than $1 billion a year in new safety technology, equipment and infrastructure. continued to invest.

In December, he said, the company unveiled a new strategy that includes a “holistic approach to measuring success.”

“Part of this is how we handle our workforce, and this announcement followed several months of record hiring at Norfolk Southern to replenish our conductor workforce. Moving forward, at a time of economic downturn In, instead of giving leave to the employees we will train them,” he said.

Testifying on Capitol Hill last week, Shaw told lawmakers he was “deeply sorry” for the crash in eastern Palestine.

After the derailment, Norfolk Southern announced a six-point plan to address safety concerns, although it did not change the size of the company’s workforce. Instead, the plan says it will increase investment in technology and join a federal program that enables railroads and employees to confidentially report safety concerns.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it had launched a special investigation into Norfolk Southern’s organization and safety culture. Since December 2021, the board said, it has launched five teams of investigators to investigate significant accidents, including Norfolk Southern.

Two of those incidents, including the murder of a Norfolk Southern employee, occurred this month.

Quimby said the investigation could take about a year.

“It’s going to be a lot of work,” he said, “but they’ll go in and observe all the different aspects of railroading.”



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