Norfolk Southern adjusts train safety after third derailment

This drone photo was taken Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. shows the continued cleanup of parts of the derailed Norfolk Southern freight train.

Gene J. Puskar | AP

Hours after a 28-car Norfolk Southern train derailed in Springfield, Ohio on Saturday — the third freight rail incident in more than a month, including a deadly accident in East Palestine, Ohio — internal emails show railroad officials have made sweeping adjustments to rail safety. Vehicles.

Internal South Norfolk An email sent Sunday and obtained by CNBC timestamped about 11 hours after the last derailment indicated that Norfolk Southern plans to reduce train length to prevent future incidents. Sources tell CNBC that the email was sent to Norfolk Southern yard managers, the unionized workers responsible for assembling the trains.

A Norfolk Southern spokesperson told CNBC that the guidelines have been updated and that the train carrier now requires any trains that exceed 10,000 feet to use split power, meaning trains receive power from multiple locations along the length of the train, rather than just at the front. . Split locomotives are wirelessly controlled for power and braking from the lead locomotive.

Norfolk Southern told CNBC that other rail carriers currently have these safety practices in place.

“At Norfolk Southern, the safety of our crews and the communities we serve is our number one priority,” Norfolk Southern spokesman Connor Spielmaker wrote in an email. “Part of improving safety is continually evaluating how we operate our network, and we have identified immediate ways to advance this goal. Today, as an interim step, we are ensuring that all trains over 10,000 feet in length are running on distribution power. based on this temporary change to conduct policy.

Norfolk Southern told CNBC that it is actively reviewing all safety protocols to ensure trains are operating properly on the line.

However, Jeremy Ferguson, president of SMART-Transportation, the nation’s largest rail union, said it was telling workers it would limit the length of trains.

“I saw the Norfolk South papers for yard masters [Monday] From the field telling us early in the morning no more than 10,000 feet of trains regardless of the power allocated,” Ferguson said. “The train that derailed on Saturday already dissipated power, so their comment to CNBC is meaningless. I say it’s a good move for Norfolk Southern to take the right steps to reduce the length of its trains, because the trains are too long.”

Train length has been a contentious issue for railroad workers and unions during negotiations. Today, railroads run on what is known as precision-planned rail, or PSR, and these trains are up to three miles long.

Trains are grouped by destination, not by weight distribution, placing the first destination at the start of the train and in sequence until the last disembarkation.

Railroads redesigned train lengths to use fewer people and move more cars with fewer locomotives, reducing costs and making higher profits. But rail unions and customers have raised safety and service concerns.

The Springfield derailment is the third derailment since the Feb. 3 train crash in East Palestine that spilled hazardous materials.

On February 16, a 135-car Norfolk Southern train traveling from Detroit to Peru, Indiana, derailed about 14 miles from the yard in Romulus, Michigan. According to the incident investigation report, the tonnage profile shows heavy cars at the front, middle and rear of the train, with empty cars scattered throughout.

The derailment is still under investigation, but human error may have been a large factor, according to an on-site investigation report: “The engineer panicked and applied heavy dynamic braking, resulting in the derailment by applying the emergency brake.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said it will send investigators to the Springfield site.

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