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US freight workers say it’s time to nationalize the railroads

By Kari Lyderson, Ron Kaminow, and Maximillian Alvarez - The Real News Network, April 26, 2023

The train derailment disaster in East Palestine, Ohio catapulted the degraded condition of the US’s freight rail network into national consciousness. But workers have been sounding the alarm for years. Long hours, short staffs, poor sick leave, and dangerously extended trains have raised the risks inherent in railroad operations for workers and the public in order to fatten the profit margins of corporate rail carriers. While the Department of Transportation has called for stricter regulation in the wake of East Palestine and other recent disasters, rank-and-file workers say it’s not enough. The problem is not simply one of inadequate regulation, but the power of private, profit-driven interests to shape what is ultimately public infrastructure. Thus comes the call to nationalize the railroads. But how might this be accomplished, and how effectively can it solve the problems plaguing the rail system today? Journalist and professor Kari Lyderson and former Railroad Workers United General Secretary Ron Kaminkow join TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez to discuss current issues in the US rail system, and the potential solutions nationalization could offer.

Kari Lyderson is a Chicago-based journalist, author and assistant professor at Northwestern University, where she leads the investigative specialization at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. She is the author of numerous books, including Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99% and Closing the Cloud Factories: Lessons from the Fight to Shut Down Chicago’s Coal Plants

Until recently, Ron Kaminow served as General Secretary of Railroad Workers United. Prior to hiring out as a brakeman with Conrail in 1996, he served as President of AFSCME Local 634 in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2005, Kaminkow helped to found Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU), an RWU predecessor. A former brakeman, conductor, and engineer for Conrail and later NS in Chicago, he formerly worked for Amtrak in Milwaukee and Chicago. He currently is working as an Amtrak engineer in Reno, Nevada, where he is the Vice President of BLET Local 51.

Read the transcript of this interview here.

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