SMART Union Renews Call for Rail Industry Changes After Ohio Derailment

February 16, 2023

Phone: (216) 228-9400 

Fax: (216) 228-0411  

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“As long as it is more profitable to clean up a disaster than to prevent one, these Wall Street-driven rail corporations will continue to hold communities like East Palestine hostage.” 

Independence, Ohio – The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation Union (SMART) is calling for an end to the business practice of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson is calling for the United States Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration to implement a series of regulations with the aim of ending PSR which is the predominant business practice in the freight rail industry.  

According to Ferguson:

“Due to Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), trains are much longer than they used to be, with some now over four miles in length. Even as the trains have gotten longer, the workforce supporting them has gotten smaller. All of this is done by rail corporations in pursuit of lower operating costs, higher profits, and a better return for shareholders. Bottom line: their deference to operating ratios over safety conditions has led us to the point where fewer railroaders with less training are taking longer trains made up of more hazardous materials down tracks with more wear and tear,” Ferguson said. “As the heartbreaking images from East Palestine show, this is a recipe for more catastrophic consequences. Unfortunately, PSR will not be a trend that runs its course and comes to an end naturallyAs long as it is more profitable to clean up a disaster than to prevent one, these Wall Street-driven rail corporations will continue to hold communities like East Palestine, Ohio hostage. We must take action to end PSR now.”  

PSR, which has proliferated industry-wide amongst the nation’s Class 1 freight railroads, is highlighted by an emphasis on reducing staffing and maximizing profits. In the wake of this trend, our nation’s rail carriers have famously reduced their head counts, lengthened trains, and relaxed safety inspections on locomotives, rolling stock (rail cars) and tracks alike. All of this has been done in the name of reducing the only metric valued by PSR: operating ratio. In the name of improved operating ratios, the car departments and track maintenance departments have been ordered to do more with less. Reduced staffing levels and the increased number of cars per train have made it impossible for these railroad professionals to properly inspect equipment to ensure its safety. As an example, car inspections that used to be done with an industry standard of 3-4 minutes per car have been reduced to 60-90 seconds.   

“Norfolk Southern’s financial liability for the derailment in East Palestine is being projected by experts to amount to 1.7 percent of their net profit from 2022. It is being said that the company’s bottom line and stock price will have fully recovered by May of this year,” Ferguson continued. “How long will it take the families impacted by this disaster to recover? It is time for the federal government to step in and levy significant penalties on these companies until they feel the same level of pain as we saw in the makeshift shelters of East Palestine. This, and only this will refocus the shareholders and executives of these companies on the safety of SMART’s members and the American public.”  


If you’re interested in speaking more about PSR, East Palestine, rail safety, and next steps for the rail industry, we’d be happy to connect you with:   

SMART Transportation Division President, Jeremy Ferguson  

President Jeremy Ferguson, a member of Local 313 in Grand Rapids, Mich., was elected president of SMART’s Transportation Division in 2019.   

President Ferguson, an Army veteran, started railroading in 1994 as a conductor on CSX at Grand Rapids, Mich., and was promoted to engineer in 1995. Ferguson headed the recent national rail negotiations for the union with the nation’s rail carriers.  

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director, Gregory Hynes  

Greg Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and was elected national legislative director in 2019.  

Hynes served on the SMART Transportation Division National Safety Team that assists the National Transportation Safety Board with accident investigations, from 2007 – 2014.

In 2014, he was appointed to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), which develops new railroad regulatory standards.   

Hynes was appointed the first chairperson of the UTU Rail Safety Task Force in 2009 and served in that capacity until being elected SMART Transportation Division alternate national legislative director at the Transportation Division’s 2014 convention.  

SMART Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director, Jared Cassity  

Jared Cassity was elected by his peers in 2019 and currently serves as the Alternate National Legislative Director for the SMART Transportation Division, which is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members who work in a variety of different crafts in the transportation industry. These crafts include employees on every Class I railroad, Amtrak, many shortline railroads, bus and mass transit employees and airport personnel. In addition to his elected roles, Cassity has also been appointed as the union’s chief of safety, serves as the director for the SMART-TD National Safety Team (which assists the NTSB in major rail-related accident investigations), is SMART-TD’s voting member on the Federal Railroad Administration’s C3RS Steering Committee, and is the first and only labor member to ever be appointed to the Transportation Security Administration’s Surface Transportation Safety Advisory Committee.

Prior to being elected an international officer, Cassity held various local and state level positions (both protective and legislative) within the union and was a certified conductor and locomotive engineer for CSX Transportation in Russell, Ky., regularly serving the coal fields of eastern Kentucky and southwestern West Virginia. His seniority date is September of 2005.

Jared works in the union’s National Legislative Office in Washington, D.C., and currently resides in Manassas, Va., with his wife, Mikki, and his two daughters, Mykayla and Mykenna.