Both sides of aisle have sights set on PSR

February 17, 2023

A bipartisan coalition of United States Senators are seeking to get to the root of PSR. 

In the wake of the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment of a Norfolk Southern train on Feb. 3, there are many questions being asked about what caused the disaster and what is being done to prevent it from happening again. This week, U.S. senators from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, seem to have seen enough to know that no matter what the final determination of the what took the NS train off the rail literally, that the railroads’ corporate policy of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) is taking the safety of this country off the rails figuratively.  

Freshman U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) was part of two letters to federal regulators looking for answers and accountability. The first was a letter he undersigned with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), to federal Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. In this letter, Vance and Rubio (who was one of the 6 Republican senators to vote for a bill providing paid sick days for railroad employees in December) press Secretary Buttigieg for descriptions of the DOT’s oversight roll of the railroads and how it plans to prevent incidents like the one in East Palestine going forward. 

  • “In particular, we request information from the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding its oversight of the United States’ freight train system and, more generally, how it balances building a safe, resilient rail industry across our country in relation to building a hyper-efficient one with minimal direct human input.” 
  • “[I]t is not unreasonable to ask whether a crew of two rail workers, plus one trainee, is able to effectively monitor 150 cars. While officials at the department’s Federal Railroad Administration have said that data are inconclusive when it comes to the effects of PSR on rail safety, derailments have reportedly increased in recent years, as has the rate of total accidents or safety-related incidents per track mile. The trade-off for Class I rail companies, of course, has been reduced labor costs, having shed nearly one-third of their workforce.” 

The second letter from U.S. Sens. Vance, and Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio and U.S. Sens. Bob Casey (D) and John Fetterman (D) of Pennsylvania was directed toward the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). This bipartisan group was requesting the NTSB look into PSR’s role in this accident and the general reduction in industry safeguards. This letter details the lawmakers’ beliefs that, among other things, PSR’s devaluation of maintenance, staffing and inspections led directly to this environmental catastrophe.  

SMART-TD has been sounding this same alarm since the onset of PSR, and we are very grateful for the full throated support we are receiving from these senators. Please visit SMART-TD’s Action Network on our website if you would like to contact these men and thank them for their support of our issues.