SMART Transportation Division began a new era in rail safety and worker protection by working with Norfolk Southern to accept and act on anonymous safety reports.

How it Works

The one-year pilot program, called the Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), is similar to one airline personnel use to hold their airlines accountable. Rail workers will share safety concerns through a secure website. NASA, acting as an independent party, will organize, anonymize and share the reports with the FRA. Under FRA guidance, improvements will be made by a joint committee including SMART-TD representatives, other rail labor and Norfolk Southern management.

As SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson observes at left, General Chairperson Thomas Gholson signs the memorandum of understanding establishing the C3RS pilot program with Norfolk Southern.

A Long Time Coming

C3RS first came to the rail industry in 2007 when SMART-TD predecessor UTU and Union Pacific participated in an early version, running until 2013. They piloted the system in Bailey Yard, North Platte, Nebraska, the largest rail yard in the world. The program was highly successful; it increased safety, reduced critical incidents and rule violations. The program also greatly reduced employee discipline. Other Class III and passenger rail carriers began to benefit from the system around the same time.

The program requires voluntary agreement among the rail carrier, labor and the federal government. Despite the program’s success, UP refused to renew the program, effectively killing it. SMART-TD has engaged in an ongoing effort to reintroduce the program at all Class I carriers.

We Have Only Begun to Fight

After our 17-year effort, Norfolk Southern has decided to take the lead on rail safety and this C3RS agreement shows that CEO Alan Shaw is serious in his commitment to making NS the safest railroad by partnering with rail labor. SMART-TD President Ferguson, and General Chairpersons Tommy Gholson, James Ball, David Phillips, Dan Weir and Joe Borders began making real progress with NS executives in 2023, resulting in a signed agreement on February 15, 2024.

“For years we’ve watched the successes of the several short lines that have practiced under C3RS and because of that, for years, we’ve long been advocates,” said Gholson, who was instrumental in negotiating the pilot program.

Gholson also praised the efforts of the four other general chairpersons for their roles in constructing the C3RS framework. Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity provided leadership by being a facilitator in the process and coordinating with the FRA.

SMART-TD: Out in Front

In a speech soon after the agreement’s signing, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said: “Rail labor has been out in front since the beginning. We have always advocated for the right to have a protected avenue to report safety concerns and injuries without fear of harassment, intimidation, or retribution.

“For far too long, this nation’s rail carriers have been complacent with their approach to safety. Obviously, this is something that can’t be reversed overnight, but we are hopeful that the corrective process can begin with a program like C3RS.

“There is no higher priority for SMART TD or the workers we represent than safety, not just for their own welfare but also for the communities in which they operate.”

New initiatives will enhance training program and focus on safety

ATLANTA and INDEPENDENCE, OHIO (July 26, 2023) — Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE:NSC) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) announced Wednesday that they are partnering to launch several new initiatives to further enhance the training program for conductor trainees and increase compensation for conductors who help provide this important training.

“Ensuring that every conductor trainee receives proper training is the foundation of running a safe railroad,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-TD. “These changes will deliver even greater quality and consistency for the Norfolk Southern conductor training program and ensure that every trainee will have a positive and comprehensive experience focused on safely performing their important work.”

“Our craft colleagues are the heart of Norfolk Southern,” said Alan H. Shaw, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern. “We have an obligation to make sure our newest employees — our conductor trainees — have the skills and knowledge to get the job done as safely as possible. We committed to partnering with our unions on safety, and our ongoing work with SMART-TD is another step in fulfilling that promise and investing in the future of our people.”

The new agreement underscores NS and SMART-TD’s joint commitment to immediately developing and deploying innovative training initiatives, including:

  • A train-the-trainer program for all conductors and foremen to ensure consistency and quality in the training they provide to new trainees.
  • A standardized process to monitor and report progress on all activities outlined in the existing trainee qualification book.
  • A bilateral rating system to allow conductor trainers and trainees to rate each other’s engagement, professionalism, and commitment to safety.

“With these changes, we are ensuring that the Norfolk Southern conductor trainee program will be the gold standard in the industry for safe and effective training,” said General Chairperson Tommy Gholson (GO 898). “We are committed to working with Norfolk Southern to ensure that our future members have access to the resources and instruction they need to have a safe and rewarding career on the railroad.”

To further recognize the important role that the company’s craft conductors play in training, effective Aug. 1, 2023, Norfolk Southern will increase the training stipend for conductors providing instruction from $10 to $30 for a through-freight-service shift, and $35 for all other service shifts.

“This increase in pay for our craft conductors is an acknowledgement of the key role they play in building a safe and productive workforce,” said General Chairperson James Ball (GCA-687). “I am thrilled we were able to partner with Norfolk Southern to secure this significant increase in compensation for our hardworking members.”

Finally, for those craft employees who step away from their work full-time to offer support and instruction – known as craft mentors – Norfolk Southern will raise their daily pay from $325 to $375, acknowledging the critical impact these railroaders make in our efforts to develop the company’s conductor workforce.

“The collaboration of SMART-TD and Norfolk Southern will vigorously improve the conductor training program,” said General Chairperson David Phillips (GCA-680). “The comprehensive training of new conductors is vital to the future existence of our industry. The new training compensation package places a well-deserved increased value on the conductor craft.”

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About Norfolk Southern
Since 1827, Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC) and its predecessor companies have safely moved the goods and materials that drive the U.S. economy. Today, it operates a customer-centric and operations-driven freight transportation network. Committed to furthering sustainability, Norfolk Southern helps its customers avoid approximately 15 million tons of yearly carbon emissions by shipping via rail. Its dedicated team members deliver more than 7 million carloads annually, from agriculture to consumer goods, and is the largest rail shipper of auto products and metals in North America. Norfolk Southern also has the most extensive intermodal network in the eastern U.S., serving a majority of the country’s population and manufacturing base, with connections to every major container port on the Atlantic coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes. Learn more by visiting

SMART Transportation Division 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. More information about the union is available at