Joint pilot program encourages railroaders to confidentially report safety concerns

SMART Transportation Division officers flank TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson (center), NS CEO Alan Shaw (left of Ferguson) and FRA Administrator Amit Bose (right of Ferguson) at Thursday’s signing ceremony in Atlanta.

ATLANTA (February 15, 2024) – Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE: NSC), the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) along with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), signed an agreement Thursday to participate in the FRA’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS).

The signing ceremony was held at the Atlanta offices of the U.S. Department of Transportation. With attendees from Norfolk Southern, the unions and FRA leadership, the ceremony officially kicked off the one-year partnership.

Norfolk Southern is the only Class I railroad participant in the program, which the company committed to in 2023. As part of the C3RS pilot program, covered Norfolk Southern employees can report safety concerns confidentially.

Railroaders at the company’s Atlanta; Elkhart, Indiana; and Roanoke, Virginia locations will participate in the pilot. Reports will be reviewed by a joint committee composed of Norfolk Southern and labor representatives, who will identify and implement safety improvements with the FRA’s guidance.


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 Norfolk Southern originates more automotive traffic than any
other Class I Railroad. Norfolk Southern also has the most extensive intermodal network in the eastern U.S. It serves a majority of the country’s population and manufacturing base, with connections to every major container port on the Atlantic coast as well as to major ports in the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes. Learn more by visiting www.NorfolkSouthern.com.
Media Inquiries: media.relations@nscorp.com

About SMART Transportation Division
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. Media contact: news_TD@smart-union.org

About BLET
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 51,500 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States employed in both freight and passenger rail. Founded in 1863, BLET is the oldest union in the United States. The BLET also is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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 www.NorfolkSouthern.com.

About SMART-TD
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 www.smart-union.org.

Norfolk Southern is and has been hiring new freight conductors at a noteworthy rate in 2023. As the labor organization that represents newly hired conductors, that is great news to the SMART Transportation Division. But like most pieces of good news that come from the railroad, this one comes with a catch.

In this case, it is a very significant catch. The problem with NS hiring record numbers of new conductors is that this perennial Fortune 500 company has been operating without a Federal Railroad Administration-approved conductor certification training program for 21 months.

The FRA has been questioning NS about its conductor training program since October 2021. Since that time, NS has submitted multiple proposals for training programs to the FRA; however, all of them have fallen short of FRA’s expectations and have been denied.

On Wednesday, June 14, 2023, the clock ran out as FRA served notice to Norfolk Southern’s board of directors that they have 15 days to produce an acceptable plan for a conductor certification training program to them and an additional 30 days (a total of 45 days) to get the plan implemented.

FRA issued three findings it deemed to be unacceptable in the current methodology NS uses to train their new-hire conductors. In the order they sent to NS’s office in Atlanta, it listed each of the three unacceptable issues they found in their safety audit along with FRA-prescribed “corrective actions” that they state NS, “must take” within the 45 days they have been allotted. The findings/actions are as follows:

  1. Increasing the minimum time trainmen can be allotted for On the Job Training (OJT) from the current 13 days.
  2. FRA found a lack of a defined process for OJT, a lack of a process to track the progress of individual trainees, and a lack of on-property training coordinators to lead the OJT programs.
  3. FRA found a pattern of violations on NS’s part involving the company designating employees as “qualified instructors” of trainees without making any attempt to find out if the employees are qualified or willing to act as instructors.

The corrective actions that FRA is mandating NS take to address these issues are broad, potentially expensive and absolutely overdue. It should not be a surprise to a company in the rail industry that 13 days of OJT is not acceptable.

As part of the prescribed corrective action plan from FRA, Norfolk Southern is obligated to consult with “relevant employee labor organizations” as part of developing their plan before they submit it to FRA. SMART-TD has already been working with Norfolk Southern to enhance other quality-of-life issues for our members. NS has already reached out to our union leadership in an effort to include us in the effort to shore up their training program.

This is a responsibility your union takes very seriously. SMART-TD has every intention to work diligently in order to make sure NS’s new training curriculum will be thoughtfully designed and ensures that our new-hire conductors are equipped with the tools they need to be safe and productive members of our railroad family.

Atlanta, GA, and Independence, OH, (March 23, 2023) — Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE:NSC) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) announced Thursday that they are discontinuing formal negotiations regarding conductor redeployment to focus their efforts on implementing other immediate quality-of-life improvements for their employees.

“Over the next year, SMART-TD and Norfolk Southern have the opportunity to work together to implement important predictability improvements for our conductor workforce,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-TD. “These scheduling enhancements, which were part of last year’s national agreements, have the potential to make an immediate positive impact for our conductors by giving them fixed days off and greater certainty about their weekly assignments. The willingness of NS to step back from plans to change to a ground-based conductor model is a welcome show of good faith in the negotiation process.”

Under the terms of the national agreements, Norfolk Southern and SMART-TD have a mid-June deadline to negotiate the details of these scheduling enhancements. Given this limited window, Norfolk Southern has withdrawn its current Section 6 bargaining notice on conductor redeployment to fully focus on collaboratively implementing these enhancements and other quality-of-life priorities.

“Norfolk Southern is committed to working with labor partners, including SMART-TD, to identify and negotiate benefits that will have a meaningful impact on our employees’ quality of life,” said Wai Wong, vice president, Labor Relations at Norfolk Southern. “While redeployment of conductors to ground-based shift-work will provide more predictable jobs and minimize time away from home, there are a number of other priorities that our labor partners would like to address, and we are committed to working together to make immediate progress.”

The withdrawal of the Section 6 notice on conductor redeployment removes the mandatory requirement for the parties to bargain over the issue, though voluntary discussions remain an option. SMART-TD and Norfolk Southern will continue listening to NS employees, relying on their input to guide the focus of their joint efforts and discussions going forward.

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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 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 www.NorfolkSouthern.com.

About SMART-TD

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 www.smart-union.org.



The brutal effects of Precision Scheduled Railroading, better known as PSR, on the lives of railroaders since 2017 have been well-documented. It’s been almost as bad for suppliers, who have seen delays in their products making it to market. It’s been bad for shippers, who have seen deliveries have to take circuitous routes so the carriers can game the metrics to show that a rail car isn’t dwelling somewhere, and it’s been bad for retailers and manufacturers, who have experienced difficulties getting products on their shelves and materials to their assembly lines.

The people benefiting from the ruthless implementation of PSR have been the rail company shareholders and execs, seeing their wallets fatten and profits blossom as profitability and share prices rise on the backs of the efforts of SMART Transportation Division members and all of rail labor.

It is a common quip on social media for railroaders to comment on articles about derailments — “But at least the shareholders are OK,” or some variant, meaning that the folks who write the accident off as the cost of doing business will be just fine so long as the money train keeps delivering.

Yet following Norfolk Southern’s Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the carrier and PSR have received even more public scrutiny than perhaps either can stand.

The story of PSR and what it means for industry safety has been exposed by the press coverage of the fiery wreckage in East Palestine. Confusion and anger about the business practice have been flowing out of the national media faster than vinyl chloride contaminating groundwater. Additional headlines are generated seemingly daily by increased coverage of derailments occurring across the continental U.S. In each, the specter of Norfolk Southern and the events in East Palestine are refreshed in one way or another.

It seems that Norfolk Southern’s extended nightmare has worsened. After a month and a half of consecutive losses in press cycles featuring the release of toxic materials in a region where thousands of people live, multiple derailments, an employee fatality, having their CEO lambasted by U.S. senators on live TV, and derailing another train 12 miles from the hometown of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, it would be fair to ask how it could get worse.

An internal revolt can be added to the list. Their own shareholders have decided to bite the hand that feeds. A class-action lawsuit filed in mid-March against NS by a group of shareholders claims they were misled about the ramifications of PSR. The suit states that NS failed to disclose pertinent information about PSR, such as the involvement of longer/heavier trains and deep cuts to operational personnel. They go on to claim that Norfolk Southern’s embrace of PSR was part of a “CULTURE OF INCREASED RISK-TAKING AT THE EXPENSE OF REASONABLE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS.”

Ironically the people NS and all rail companies are using PSR to make richer aren’t comfortable with PSR anymore for the same reasons railroaders and their families have been uncomfortable with it since its inception. Now that political leaders and the media have taken the time to dig into the topic, the narrative is iron clad.

Essentially, the group of NS shareholders say that large-scale disasters were inevitable because of the practices of PSR. Due to that inevitability, they say that NS leadership was not acting as good corporate stewards of their investments. So even though the investors have benefited from record-breaking returns, seeing an Ohio village spoiled and the later economic consequences may have them now sensing the end of the road. These shareholders have become appalled at what PSR really meant on the ground level. It’s a classic case of losing your appetite when someone tells you how the sausage is actually made.

Under normal circumstances, it would be difficult to sympathize with the shareholders of NS and the other carriers. For seven years, rail labor has felt the weight of their finely polished wing-tipped shoe on our fingers as we try to keep the fraying supply chain together. The results have been a driving force in both our personal and professional lives — constant exhaustion, poor morale and the dread of wondering what else will go wrong.

That being said, there is a time-tested adage that, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And if the railroad employees are revolting against PSR, the government regulators are pushing back against PSR, and now the mighty shareholders are joining in, we need to embrace it. This class-action suit by NS shareholders may turn out to be the loudest voice in the anti-hedge fund/PSR railroading chorus.

What we the people who move their freight every day say means absolutely nothing to carriers. What the FRA does to them is a nuisance that only means the carriers have to adjust the next quarter’s lobbying budget. But when the shareholders seize pitchforks and torches, we all know that is the only pressure that means anything to the hedge-fund operators leading our nation’s railroads.

We would encourage all our members to keep an eye on this lawsuit. If you are an NS employee or anyone with significant amounts of stock in their company, we would encourage you to follow the link provided to look into joining the suit.

SMART-TD will continue to keep you informed as we push back against PSR and fight now and into the future for your quality of life to be restored to what it was before Hunter Harrison’s legacy infected our industry.

WATCH: SMART-TD Ohio State Legislative Director Clyde Whitaker testified about rail safety issues before a U.S. Senate committee in March 2023.

Last week’s much-anticipated hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works featured a discussion of the Norfolk Southern derailment and the subsequent release of chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. The spectacle of seeing NS CEO Alan Shaw fend off questions from the senators was clearly the main event of the day; however the undercard of the hearing was well worth the price of the ticket.  

The hearing’s opening panel featured a robust discussion of the new bipartisan legislation being considered in the Senate known as the Railway Safety Act of 2023. Three out of the four title sponsors of the bill were in the hearing and testified about the goals they seek to achieve through the Safety Act. 

Testimony started off with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat. Last December, Casey not only voted for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ legislation to guarantee seven paid sick days for railroad employees, but he also spoke at the SMART Transportation Division-led rally Dec. 13 outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. in support of ending Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR).  

With the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern derailment and subsequent aftermath unfolding mere feet from Sen. Casey’s state, it makes sense that he would be among the group of legislators trying to rein in the effects PSR is having on our industry.  

In discussing the Railway Safety Act of 2023, Casey said, “The future has to be about passing the Railway Safety Act that Senator Brown, Senator Vance, Senator Fetterman and I and others are leading. It’s bipartisan. That never happens around here on big bills, or rarely, I should say. It would be a good start by Norfolk Southern to tell us here today in addition to what more they are going to do for the people of Ohio and Pennsylvania, to tell us today that they support the bill! That would help.” Casey continued, “That’s what the people of both states deserve.” 

Following Sen. Casey’s testimony, the spotlight went to the two Ohio senators. Sherrod Brown and JD Vance are on very different ends of the political spectrum, but they both did solid work discussing the strengths of and the need for the legislation.  

“Lobbyists for the railroad companies have spent years fighting every effort to strengthen rules to make our trains and our rail lines safer. Now Ohioans are paying the price.”

– Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown

In discussing Norfolk Southern’s large derailment in Ohio on March 4th, Sen. Brown said, “Another NS train derailed in Springfield, Ohio. This time the cars that derailed weren’t carrying hazardous chemicals, but other cars on that 200-plus-car train were. The only thing that saved Ohioans from another disaster was luck. But we need more than that. That is why Senator Vance and I have come together to introduce our bipartisan Railway Safety Act.”  

He went on to say that “lobbyists for the railroad companies have spent years fighting every effort to strengthen rules to make our trains and our rail lines safer. Now Ohioans are paying the price.” 

Sen. Vance came out swinging pretty hard at the railroads, especially considering he is just months into his first term in Congress. For his part, Vance pointed out that, “This is an industry that enjoys special subsidies that almost no industry enjoys. This is an industry that enjoys special carveouts that almost no industry enjoys. This is an industry that just three months ago had the federal government come in and save them from a labor dispute. It was effectively a bailout. And now they’re claiming before the Senate and House that our reasonable legislation is somehow a violation of the free market? Well pot, meet the kettle, because that doesn’t make an ounce of sense. You cannot claim special government privileges, you cannot ask the government to bail you out and then resist basic public safety.”  

In reference to his colleagues in Congress, Vance offered this: “We have a choice. Are we for big business and big government, or are we for the people of East Palestine? It’s a time for choosing. Let’s make the right one.” 

It’s hard to put a finer point on it than that. SMART-TD is happy to have the combination of these three legislators along with Sens. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), pushing this bill in Washington. We applaud their interest in safeguarding the rail industry and look forward to helping them as we get the Railway Safety Act of 2023 over the finish line.

“From the Ballast” is an open column for SMART Transportation Division rail members to state their perspective on issues related to the railroad industry. Members of the union are encouraged to submit content by emailing to news_TD@smart-union.org. Columns are published at the union’s discretion and may be published in the SMART-TD newspaper.

Most of us with any amount of time on the railroad have the shared experience of feeling the hot seat that comes with a company discipline hearing. These kangaroo courts are not set up to be fair and impartial fact-finding missions.  As we all know, they are an exercise in intimidation meant to make us feel as uncomfortable as possible. If they can add the bonus of humiliation on top of the penalty they’re threatening to impose, it makes the experience so much better.  

The U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works’ hearing March 9 put Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw in our shoes for once (and not that pair of work boots he acquired to look like a relatable guy when the cameras were filming him in East Palestine, Ohio). For once, the so-called “big boss” got to experience the discomfort and frustration of when people in authority demand an explanation and accountability. It was very reminiscent of how we feel in similar situations when we’re getting grilled by railroad managers like Shaw.  

It was hard to feel any sympathy. Yet while every senator seemed poised to force Shaw’s hand, each stopped just short of going in for the kill. Those who did ask hard questions were given lukewarm half-answers — snippets from the well-rehearsed lines that he has been using since the derailment happened. He appeared like he was simply spinning his greatest hits album of the soundbites that scored highest in a focus group. 

Based on the fact that the hearing went for over a third of the time a rail crew has off between shifts these days, most members likely didn’t have the opportunity to watch. In an effort to put a bow on it, the hearing broke down like this: 

CEO Shaw was asked about as many questions as you could fit into the 3-hour, 19-minute hearing but somehow managed to answer every one of them with one of the following responses on a loop.  

  • I have only been the CEO since May 2022. 
  • I am personally determined to make this right for the community of East Palestine. 
  • Norfolk Southern will be in East Palestine tomorrow, next month, next year, and ten years from now. 
  • We created a new website in response to the disaster. 

After seeing his performance, (and that was exactly what it was) I would offer Mr. Shaw some advice. First, he should hire a new acting coach to help him get through these situations. His entitled angry Wall Street CEO reality leaked through the repentant empathetic “Mother Teresa” persona that he was trying to adopt before the panel as penance for the misery that’s occurred in East Palestine.  

Second, I would advise him to learn the value of direct answers. He was asked yes/no questions time and time again and offered answers that went on for minutes at a time and somehow did not include either of those two words to definitively answer what was asked.  

Since the senators were allotted a limited amount of time for their questions, Shaw was successful in running out the clock by playing a version of corporate prevent defense. But where he succeeded in not being pinned down to anything that could be held up in court as a commitment, he failed to move the needle in the court of public opinion. His wishy-washy answers, devoid of authenticity, full of unwillingness to commit to substantive industry change away from Precision Scheduled Railroading, and the recurring theme of “we’ll consider throwing more money at the problem we created,” clearly angered the senators on the Committee of Environment and Public Works. We will see what effect they have on the all-important shareholders of Norfolk Southern. His appearance did nothing to inspire the confidence of SMART Transportation Division.  

Among some of the questions from the senators that Shaw artfully dodged were: 

  • What did NS learn from the 20th derailment that resulted in a chemical release since 2015 that it didn’t learn from the 5th, the 10th, or the 15th? — Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) 
  • Will you lead the rail industry in getting away from the business model known as Precision Scheduled Railroading? — Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) 
  • Was the owner of the rail car in question who is responsible for its maintenance and contents involved in the decision to vent it and burn off the contents of it? — Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma) 

One last highlight came from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). It wasn’t posed as a question, but in Whitehouse’s comments, he stated that, “Mr. Shaw, the news is reporting that there has just been a significant derailment in Alabama of one of your trains. I certainly hope that all of your team and anyone in the vicinity is safe and well. You may need to look into that.” 

Though the net result of the hearing was minimal, CEO Shaw came out of it looking highly frustrated, but less than trustworthy. He was clearly uncomfortable being held accountable for the unintended but inevitable consequences of his company’s embrace of PSR.  

What left me with an uncomfortable feeling was that Shaw continually framed all the promises made to East Palestine and surrounding communities as “personal commitments.” As anyone on the rail can tell you, nothing is true or real in this industry until it is. There is no such thing as a guarantee. With all of the commitments coming from Shaw personally, it raises the question of what happens if NS fires him?  

Likely, he’ll float away comfortably from East Palestine on his golden parachute, make a comfortable landing elsewhere — maybe as an industry lobbyist — and the Ohio village residents he testified to have such an affinity with would be left holding a bag full of empty promises, just like every one of us railroaders with wallets full of unfulfilled IOUs from Class I managers. 

Daniel Banks is a Class I certified conductor and government affairs representative for the SMART Transportation Division. 

The federal Surface Transportation Board issued the following statement on Friday, May 6:

The Surface Transportation Board today announced that it will require certain railroads to submit service recovery plans as well as provide additional data and regular progress reports on rail service, operations, and employment.  These measures are meant to inform the Board’s assessment of further actions that may be warranted to address the acute service issues facing the rail industry and to promote industry-wide transparency, accountability, and improvements in rail service.

This decision follows extensive testimony on severe rail service issues reported by a wide range of witnesses — including agricultural, energy, and other shippers, as well as government officials, rail labor, and rail experts — during the Board’s April 26 and 27, 2022 public hearing in Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service. The Board has also continued to review and monitor weekly rail service performance data, which indicate trends in deteriorating service. The decision focuses on the adequacy of recovery efforts involving BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), CSX Transportation (CSX), Norfolk Southern Railway Company (NS), and Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP), and it requires more comprehensive and customer-centric reporting of all Class I railroads’ service metrics.

“Our freight rail service hearing highlighted the grave concerns of shippers and others regarding freight rail service,” said Chairman Martin J. Oberman. “While the railroads have faced certain challenges over the last few years, the evidence produced at last week’s hearing is overwhelming that the railroads’ longstanding practice of reducing operating ratios by cutting employment levels, mothballing locomotives, and eliminating other essential resources are the central reasons  why farmers have been hours away from depopulating herds, manufacturing facilities have reduced operating hours, and shippers cannot get their products to market on time or receive essential raw materials for their companies. These failures are harming the nation’s economy and, in my view, are contributing to the inflationary forces affecting food and fuel in particular.”

“Requiring additional reporting from railroads may not be the final result of our hearing on service issues. Today’s decision is an immediate step the Board can take to enable needed monitoring of the improved efforts the railroads have been promising for months, and to determine if additional regulatory steps are necessary to promote reliable service.”

Today’s decision requires all Class I carriers to submit several specific reports on rail service, performance, and employment.  In addition, BNSF, CSX, NS, and UP are required to submit service recovery plans, progress reports, historical data, and participate in bi-weekly conference calls with Board staff.

A recording of the Board’s April 26 and 27, 2022 hearing in Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service, may be viewed on the Board’s YouTube page.  Today’s decision in Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service—Railroad Reporting, Docket No. EP 770 (Sub-No. 1), may be viewed and downloaded here.

Class I railroad officials have a two-day-long hearing before the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to prepare for later this month.

Reports from shippers to STB regarding poor service — the latest being a letter directly from the National Grain and Feed Association, a group representing more than 8,000 facilities — as well as a letter from Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson regarding precision scheduled railroading (PSR) and the self-inflicted worker shortages that have come with it have led up to the April 26 and 27 hearing.

The board, an independent and bipartisan federal agency charged with the economic regulation of various modes of surface transportation, primarily freight rail, announced the meeting April 7 in the light of indications of poor performance data.

“Rail network reliability is essential to the Nation’s economy and is a foremost priority of the Board. In recent weeks, the Board has heard informally from a broad range of stakeholders about inconsistent and unreliable rail service. The Board has also received reports from the Secretary of Agriculture and other stakeholders about the serious impact of these service trends on rail users, particularly with respect to shippers of agricultural and energy products. These reports have been validated by the Board’s weekly rail service performance data.”

Board Chairman Martin Oberman went into additional detail about how job cuts in particular have hampered the carriers.

“I have raised concerns about the primacy Class I railroads have placed on lowering their operating ratios and satisfying their shareholders even at the cost of their customers.  Part of that strategy has involved cutting their work force to the bare bones in order to reduce costs,” he said. “Over the last six years, the Class Is collectively have reduced their work force by 29% – that is about 45,000 employees cut from the payrolls.

“In my view, all of this has directly contributed to where we are today – rail users experiencing serious deteriorations in rail service because, on too many parts of their networks, the railroads simply do not have a sufficient number of employees.”

Carriers summoned to appear include BNSF Railway Company, CSX Transportation, Inc., Norfolk Southern Railway Company, and Union Pacific Railroad Company. Executive-level officials from the other three Class Is also were invited to attend, as were labor organizations and shippers.

The hearing will take place at the Board’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., with each session beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Tommy Manuzewski, a probationary member of our union’s Local 1566 (Buffalo, N.Y.), was severely injured in an accident late last month after being struck by a train in a Norfolk Southern yard.
Brother Manuzewski’s arm was amputated and his collarbone and multiple vertebrae were broken as well. He underwent successful emergency surgery after being placed in a medically induced coma after the accident, and his recovery likely will take years, doctors have said.
Because of his probationary status, his coverage through the railroad benefit system had not begun. In the latest update on Brother Manuszewski’s status published Nov. 6, Local 1566 Legislative Representative Joseph Kaier said that treatment is ongoing, focusing on pain management and in-patient rehabilitation.
An online fundraiser has been established by his local to help support Brother Manuzewski on GoFundMe.
“Tommy and his family have been devastated by these events,” Kaier wrote. “Tommy’s career as freight conductor is over, and soon his family’s bills will be racking up.”
Manuzewski helps care for his elderly parents and was to be married to his fiancee, Tammi Jo Smith, next summer.
Please contribute if you are able.