OMAHA, Neb. — Even as railroads are operating longer and longer freight trains that sometimes stretch for miles, the companies have drastically reduced staffing levels, prompting unions to warn that moves meant to increase profits could endanger safety and even result in disasters.
More than 22% of the jobs at railroads Union Pacific, CSX and Norfolk Southern have been eliminated since 2017, when CSX
The railroads acknowledge they have cut staff, lengthened trains and made other adjustments to reduce spending, but they are adamant none of the changes increase dangers. Regulators at the Federal Railroad Administration say they are tracking the changes and that the data so far does not show the new operating model is unsafe. But unions counter that with the stakes so high any time a train derails, the new system is risky.
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"Every time the wheels come off the rail, it’s kind of like buying a lottery ticket to the big disaster," said Jason Cox with the carmen division of the Transportation Communications Union.
Precision Scheduled Railroading calls for running fewer, longer trains with a mix of freight to reduce the number of crews and locomotives needed to deliver millions of tons of goods nationwide. The railroads also operate their trains on more of a set schedule now, with fewer stops and pickups, and they have eliminated shorter, less-profitable routes.