(NewsNation) — Railroad workers have been sounding the alarm for years over railway safety concerns, and a string of recent train derailments have brought these issues into the spotlight.
Greg Regan, the president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, said he has raised safety concerns in front of Congress multiple times in the past, saying it’s not that train accidents are up in the last few months, but they’ve been up over the last 10 years.
“Frankly, it coincides directly with the reduction of the workforce levels that we’ve seen in the industry. 30% of the workforce was laid off since 2015. And when you have, you know, the scope of the U.S. railroad system, and you reduce it by 30% of the workforce, something’s going to get there,” Regan said.
He said they have been saying for years that there were going to be safety consequences for those types of cost-cutting measures that were driven by quarterly returns.
Regan said that railroad safety concerns were at the center of the railroad strike threat last year, not wages or benefits. He explained it was the quality of life issues that was the biggest issue holding up the contract.
“It was things like Draconian attendance policies, it was lack of sick leave, work-life balance issues. All of those issues were the ones that were holding up a deal,” he said.
There are a lot of efforts by the industry to try to eliminate existing safety requirements, Regan said.
A letter from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED), a union representing railway workers, obtained by NewsNation on Wednesday expressed a lot on this issue. The fact for them is that they are being offered more time off with Norfolk Southern so that machines can go in and do the inspections rather than the actual rail workers. However, the machines can’t do the specific inspections that maintenance workers can.
“What it (technology) can’t do is tell you when there is you know, some sort of corrosion in the actual system, when it may fail in the future. So I think there is value in having technology if we can incorporate it in the right way,” Regan said. “Oftentimes, technology tells you when something has failed, workers will tell you when it may fail or when it’s at risk of failing.”
The statement from Norfolk Southern said the “ATIP technology can detect track defects with significantly higher accuracy than a human inspector, and because ATIP is mounted on locomotives, it conducts an inspection every time a locomotive traverses a track — a much greater frequency than what is possible with a human performing a manual inspection.”
But Regan said it really is a business model that was designed to reduce costs as much as possible to maximize profits, explaining that it practically means it’s the driving force behind the workforce reductions that have been seen over the last eight to 10 years.
“It’s the driving force behind why we have longer trains and fewer trains, why we have fewer rail yards operating and mothballing of equipment. It is not precise. It is not scheduled. And I will tell you a lot of railroaders I know will say it’s not railroading,” he said.
Regan said Americans should care about this because railroads and railroad workers are the backbones of the U.S. economy, and they run through virtually every community in the country. If they aren’t doing it effectively and safely, Regan said the industry would be failing both the nation and their employees.