US railroad NS commits to enhanced safety as legislation works through Congress

Adam Yanelli


HOUSTON (ICIS)–US railroad Norfolk Southern (NS) and the leaders of 12 NS labour unions sent a letter to their employees and membership on Tuesday committing to working towards improvements in rail safety as legislation targeting the same works its way through Congress.

“Today, national labour leaders and NS management are committing to work together to enhance rail safety for our people and the communities we serve,” the letter reads. “We will not agree on everything. That is okay. Our belief in the importance of safety unites us. We want our people to show up to work every day knowing their employer and their union are working diligently to help them do their jobs safely.”

In the letter, the signatories commit to collaborate, consult experts, review best practices, and listen to the people closest to the work.

“We will remain open-minded, nimble, and fact-based, making changes as we learn,” the letter reads. “Along the way we will continue to look for other ways to collaborate to improve the quality of life for our colleagues.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee voted earlier this month to advance the Railway Safety Act of 2023 which, if passed into law, would take several key steps to improve rail safety protocols, such as enhancing safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, establishing requirements for wayside defect detectors, creating a permanent requirement for railroads to operate with at least two-person crews, increasing fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers, and more.

But the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the trade group for the railroad industry, is urging policymakers to continue refining the legislation to ensure the bill is focused on solution-driven polices that will measurably enhance safety.

“Committee negotiations on the Rail Safety Act have yielded substantive improvements that advance stakeholders’ shared goal – enhancing rail safety, supporting first responders and keeping our communities safe,” AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said. “Railroads support items of this bill and remain fully committed to working with the committee and all members of the Senate to build on these improvements, with the ultimate goal of ensuring all provisions result in meaningful data-driven safety advancements that all can support.”

The AAR said certain provisions in the act continue to present challenges, including those that mandate crew staffing models, expand hazmat transportation operating requirements, micromanage detector networks, and unnecessarily broaden manual inspections.

“In a piece of safety legislation, each provision should be clearly designed to rectify a current safety challenge,” Jefferies said. “As reported out of the Committee, this bill falls short of that goal.”

The focus on rail safety came to the forefront earlier this year when a NS train carrying vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) derailed on 3 February in East Palestine, Ohio.

Prior to the accident, the chemical industry was unhappy with the service being provided by the nation’s Class I railroads and raised its concerns with the US Surface Transportation Board (STB).

The STB ordered the nations Class 1 railroads to temporarily report service data through the end of May.

Railroads are vital to the chemicals industry as chemical railcar loadings represent about 20% of chemical transportation by tonnage in the US, with trucks, barges and pipelines carrying the rest.

In Canada, chemical producers rely on rail to ship more than 70% of their products, with some exclusively using rail.

Focus article by Adam Yanelli

Thumbnail image shows a railroad. Photo by Shutterstock


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