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“Bomb Train”: Where Tory Rail “Modernisation” Ends Up

By Paul Atkin - Greener Jobs Alliance, February 15, 2023

This report from “Democracy Now” on the rail disaster in Ohio last week, in which a 150 car freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed and a “controlled burn” by the company released “a fireball and mushroom cloud of smoke” into the environment, shows where the Tory “modernisation agenda” for the Railways ends up. 

All their key themes

  • cuts to staffing 
  • cuts to safety procedures
  • restrictions on the right to strike

are all in place in the USA; which is a model for the government’s attempts to deregulate employers while tying up workers’ capacity to resist.

The interviews with Emily Wright, community organizer based near the site of the derailment; Ross Grooters, a locomotive engineer and co-chair of Railroad Workers United; and Julia Rock, an investigative reporter with The Lever tell a cautionary tale everyone in the UK should know about.

 Please think of this next time you hear a government minister chuntering on about “modernisation” and “outdated practices” and pass this on.

“Bomb Train” in Ohio Sickens Residents After Railroad Cutbacks, Corporate Greed Led to Toxic Disaster | Democracy Now!

“Bomb Train” in Ohio Sickens Residents After Railroad Cutbacks, Corporate Greed Led to Toxic Disaster

By Emily Wright, Julia Rock, Ross Grooters, Amy Goodman, and Juan Gonzáles - Democracy Now!, February 13, 2023

Fears of a wider health and environmental disaster are growing, after a 150-car freight train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed and a so-called controlled burn released toxic chemicals last week in East Palestine, Ohio. Residents reported seeing a fireball and mushroom cloud of smoke fill the skyline. Data released by the Environmental Protection Agency shows the train contained more toxic and carcinogenic chemicals than initially reported, including phosgene, a poisonous gas that has been used as a chemical weapon in war. Officials lifted an evacuation order for residents last Wednesday, saying the air and water were safe, but residents have reported sore throats, burning eyes and respiratory problems, and wildlife has been found dead. Meanwhile, scrutiny has turned onto Norfolk Southern, which in recent years has challenged regulatory laws aimed at making the rail industry safer and made mass cuts to railroad staffing while spending billions on stock buybacks and executive compensation. We get an update from Emily Wright, community organizer based near the site of the derailment; Ross Grooters, a locomotive engineer and co-chair of Railroad Workers United; and Julia Rock, an investigative reporter with The Lever.

Progressives Demand Buttigieg Act on Rail Safety Amid Toxic Ohio Disaster

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, February 14, 2023

The transportation secretary's refusal to fortify freight train regulations and crack down on Norfolk Southern "only signals to the railroads that this type of incident will be tolerated," said one watchdog.

Progressives are demanding that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg improve rail safety regulations in response to the unfolding public health disaster in East Palestine, Ohio—the site of a recent fiery train crash and subsequent "controlled release" of toxic fumes that critics say was entirely avoidable.

"The Obama administration attempted to prevent dangerous derailments like the one in East Palestine by mandating better brake systems on freight trains," Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, said Tuesday in a statement. "But this effort was watered down thanks to corporate pressure, first by writing in many exemptions to the proposed rules and then, under [former President Donald] Trump, by repealing the requirement altogether."

Recent reporting from The Lever revealed that Buttigieg's Department of Transportation (DOT) "has no intention of reinstating or strengthening the brake rule rescinded under Trump," said Hauser. "Additionally, The Leverreports that the train was not being regulated as a high-hazard flammable train, despite it clearly being both high-hazard and flammable. These types of failures to protect the public are invited by perpetual lax enforcement and laziness toward even getting back to the too-low regulatory standards under Obama."

"Now, all eyes are on Secretary Buttigieg," he continued. "For too long he has been content to continue the legacy of his deregulatory predecessor, Elaine Chao, rather than immediately moving to reverse her legacy upon becoming secretary."

"Norfolk Southern's environmental disaster is the latest in a long string of corporate malfeasance committed right under the secretary's nose," Hauser observed, referring to the company that owns the derailed train. "As I've warned before, corporations do not respect Buttigieg as a regulator."

“There Will Be More Derailments”

By Julia Rock and Rebecca Burns - The Lever, February 10, 2023

Pete Buttigieg’s Transportation Department has not moved to revive an Obama-era safety rule that could help prevent future train accidents and derailments.

In the aftermath of a fiery Ohio train derailment, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s department has not moved to reinstate an Obama-era rail safety rule aimed at expanding the use of better braking technology, even though a former federal safety official recently warned Congress that without the better brakes, “there will be more derailments [and] more releases of hazardous materials.”

Instead, transportation regulators have been considering a rail-industry-backed proposal that could weaken existing brake safety rules.

Most of the nation’s freight trains — including the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in Ohio — continue to rely on a Civil War-era braking system. Norfolk Southern belongs to a lobby group that successfully pressed President Donald Trump to repeal a 2015 rule requiring newer, safer electronic braking systems in some trains transporting hazardous materials, The Lever reported Wednesday.

The Department of Transportation's most recent regulatory agenda — which lists all planned, proposed, and final rules — does not include an ECP brake rule.

When asked if the better braking technology would have reduced the severity of the Ohio accident, Steven Ditmeyer, a former senior official at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said, “Yes.”

'Huge Win': Railway Unions Strike Deal on Sick Leave With Industry Giant CSX

By Bret Wilkins - Common Dreams, February 8, 2023

"Now it's time for the entire rail industry, which made over $26 billion in profits last year, to provide at least seven paid sick days to every rail worker in America," said Sen. Bernie Sanders in response.

After sustained pressure from organized workers and their allies, freight rail giant CSX Transportation agreed Tuesday to provide 5,000 employees in two unions with four days of paid sick leave each year—an industry-first move progressive said should serve as an example for other companies to follow.

The agreement reached between Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX and two unions—the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED)—will provide four days of fully paid sick leave each year, while allowing union members to take up to three personal leave days annually. Additionally, employees can apply their unused paid sick days to their 401K retirement accounts or take payouts.

"We are extremely proud that BRC is one of the very first unions to reach this type of an agreement," said Don Grissom, president of the BRC—which represents mechanical workers—in a statement. "This agreement is a significant accomplishment and provides a very important benefit for our members working at CSXT. The other carriers should take note and come to the bargaining table in a similar manner."

‘Workers Know the Truth’ About the Derailment Disaster - Why Are They Being Ignored?

By Bob Hennelly - Work-Bites, February 8, 2023

Throughout the recent hazardous chemical freight train derailment in Ohio and the four-day ordeal that followed while the flaming wreck was stabilized, the one perspective that was consistently missing from the reporting was that of the union railroad workers. It didn’t matter if it was the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Associated Press , the reporting relied on interviews with local, state and federal officials as well as statements from the Norfolk Southern, the rail carrier but not the perspective of their union workers.

It was as if robots and AI were already driving the train. The entire narrative of the cataclysm was framed by officials and the corporation whose malfunctioning train was now putting workers and the community in life-threatening jeopardy. The derailment played out in the rural borderland of Ohio and Pennsylvania requiring both states to activate an emergency evacuation response.

On Friday evening, the tranquility of East Palestine, Ohio, with a population of 4,761 people, was upended when a Norfolk Southern train with 150 cars in tow, derailed sparking a conflagration that inundated the area with toxic smoke. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 20 of the cars in train were carrying hazardous materials. 

The U.S. EPA had to start monitoring the air for carbon monoxide, oxygen hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, phosgene, and hydrogen chloride. Throughout the weekend, firefighters did their best to keep the disabled tanker cars cool as some of the hazardous cargo burned off. The local fire chief told reporters he was concerned about the presence of vinyl chloride, a colorless, toxic, and flammable gas.

“If you are in this red zone that is on the map and you refuse to evacuate, you are risking death,” Pennsylvania’s Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) warned. “If you are within the orange area on this map, you risk permanent lung damage within a matter of hours or days.”

In initial comments, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] posited that the derailment of the 150-car train was most likely caused by a problem with one of the axles on one of the freight or tanker cars. The catastrophic derailment, with significant public health and environmental implications, comes a few months after President Biden and Congress imposed a contract on the nation’s rail unions that their rank and file rejected in part because it lacked paid sick days.

Rail Companies Blocked Safety Rules Before Ohio Derailment

By David Sirota, Julia Rock, Rebecca Burns, and Matthew Cunningham-Cook - The Lever, February 8, 2023

Norfolk Southern helped convince government officials to repeal brake rules — and corporate lobbyists watered down hazmat safety regs.

Before this weekend’s fiery Norfolk Southern train derailment prompted emergency evacuations in Ohio, the company helped kill a federal safety rule aimed at upgrading the rail industry’s Civil War-era braking systems, according to documents reviewed by The Lever.

Though the company’s 150-car train in Ohio reportedly burst into 100-foot flames upon derailing — and was transporting materials that triggered a fireball when they were released and incinerated — it was not being regulated as a “high-hazard flammable train,” federal officials told The Lever.

Documents show that when current transportation safety rules were first created, a federal agency sided with industry lobbyists and limited regulations governing the transport of hazardous compounds. The decision effectively exempted many trains hauling dangerous materials — including the one in Ohio — from the “high-hazard” classification and its more stringent safety requirements.

Amid the lobbying blitz against stronger transportation safety regulations, Norfolk Southern paid executives millions and spent billions on stock buybacks — all while the company shed thousands of employees despite warnings that understaffing is intensifying safety risks. Norfolk Southern officials also fought off a shareholder initiative that could have required company executives to “assess, review, and mitigate risks of hazardous material transportation.”

E. Palestine Ohio Train Wreck, Greed & Systemic Crisis In US Rail System With RWU Gabe Christenson

Just Transition for Rail

By Chris Saltmarsh - The Ecologist, February 6, 2023

A review of Derailed: How to Fix Britain’s Railways, by Tom Haines-Doran, published by Manchester University Press.

As climate change intensifies, the imperative to shift our transport system away from polluting private cars to public transport – rail in particular – becomes increasingly urgent.

At the same time, amid an inflationary crisis, rail workers are at the forefront of a nationwide wave of strike action defending pay and conditions.

In Derailed: How to Fix Britain’s Broken Railways, Tom Haines-Doran puts the UK’s rail system in these political-economic contexts with a compelling account of its history, present conditions and future possibilities.

Railroad Nationalization Must Be Part of the Green New Deal

By Mayor Seidel - Sewer Socialists, February 5, 2023

In December, Congress and the Biden Administration forced a deal on railroad workers and stripped them of their right to strike. This made two things clear: how draconian the private freight railroads are to their workers, and yet how essential they are to the functioning of the country. Equally, private railroads are not only essential to the economy, but to the climate. Transportation is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector, including electricity generation. Within transportation, among the modes primarily used for freight (trucks, rail, and boats), railroads were responsible for only 7% of emissions despite carrying 27% of cargo (in ton-miles). Despite being a net reducer of emissions by taking trucks off the roads, the private railroads are avowed enemies of climate action. Afraid of losing their lucrative coal-hauling traffic, the same four railroads who Congress acted on behalf of have spent millions to lobby against climate action and deny climate change. Capitalists who bankroll climate deniers own the most important system of low-carbon infrastructure on the continent.

The effects of the existing freight railroads on climate change, both good and ill, are minuscule compared to the unrealized potential that they hold. The railroads would have a higher share of freight traffic if not for the shortsighted management of their private ownership. Additionally, 57% of transportation emissions come from “light duty vehicles,” i.e. passenger cars. The strongest opportunities to eliminate car trips are in urban centers, by building inviting pedestrian spaces, safe bicycle infrastructure and robust public transit networks. At the same time, to build a credible alternative to automobile travel, these green transportation systems must be connected to one another into metropolitan and intercity rail networks. This cannot be done without the infrastructure that, outside the Northeast, is controlled by the private freight railroads.

The private railroads are hostile to passenger service, which they see as a threat to their freight operations. Amtrak publishes a “report card” each year, ranking the private freight railroads by how much they delayed passenger trains. In 2021, at least 20% of riders were delayed on more than half of state-supported routes and 14 of 15 long-distance routes. The private railroads even hold back some commuter railroad services. Several Metra lines serving suburban Chicagoland are operated under “purchase-of-service” agreements with freight railroads, leaving commuters at the mercy of their private owners. Newer systems like Virginia’s VRE that use private freight corridors must negotiate complicated and expensive agreements with host railroads to expand service. Confronting climate change must include rationalizing the relationship between freight and passenger rail service, both of which are essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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