Six months after the disastrous hazardous materials derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has penned a letter to area residents outlining the railroad’s ongoing commitment to the community and to improving its safety culture.
“We promised to make things right for you and your neighbors, and we’ve made a lot of progress. Our work isn’t over, which is why we will keep asking you how we can make things right,” Shaw wrote.
The railroad continues to clean the derailment site, where ongoing environmental monitoring shows that air and drinking water are safe. Some residents, however, continue to report health problems in the wake of the wreck that spilled and burned toxic chemicals.
Freight rail stakeholders will be watching closely as Union Pacific’s incoming CEO Jim Vena takes over the company, especially given how labor and operational dynamics have changed over the last three years since the industry veteran was last at UP as chief operating officer and later strategic adviser.
Vena, whose appointment came amid hedge fund pressure to change leadership, will assume his new role Aug. 14, replacing outgoing CEO Lance Fritz. Beth Whited, who is currently UP’s executive vice president for strategy and sustainability, will be promoted to the railroad’s president that same day.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) and Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD ) have united to write to U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and U.S. Reps. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to oppose cuts to administrative funding for the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).
The cuts are included in the fiscal-year 2024 House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill. The letters urged the lawmakers to support the limitation included in the FY24 Senate Labor-HHS bill instead.
Greg Regan, President of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, joined WFMJ to discuss the renewed push for rail safety on the 6 month anniversary of Norfolk Southern’s toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Reported by Stephen Groves and Josh Funk for AP News.
Congress responded to the fiery train derailment in eastern Ohio earlier this year with bipartisan alarm, holding a flurry of hearings about the potential for railroad crashes to trigger even larger disasters. Both parties agreed that a legislative response was needed.
Yet six months after life was upended in East Palestine, little has changed.
While President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have praised a railroad safety bill from Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and JD Vance, a Republican, the Senate proposal has also encountered resistance. Top GOP leaders in Congress have been hesitant to support it, and the bill has faced some opposition from the railroad industry, which holds significant sway in Washington.
Reported by Lillianna Byington and Andrew Small for Bloomberg Government.
Today marks six months since a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio drew national attention to rail safety — and workers want the anniversary to jump-start action.
“On this somber occasion, rail labor unions once again renew our calls for safety reforms,” the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO said in a statement Thursday. “To the people of East Palestine: we have not forgotten you.”
In contrast, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, representing U.S. freight rail workers, issued a statement on the anniversary of the derailment supporting additional regulations.
“Rail companies have lobbied to evade or weaken safety provisions, such as the two-person crew minimum staffing standard in legislation pending before Congress. They have also sought to gut proposed safety requirements for rail inspections, defect detectors, and more,” the statement said.
The Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB) ability to process retirements and sickness benefits for railroad employees and retirees “living in every state and every congressional district” would be “severely” impacted by the limitation on RRB’s administrative funding included in the fiscal year (FY) 2024 House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill, the Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), and Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) told Congress in a July 31 letter expressing their opposition.
“As passed by the House Labor-HHS Subcommittee on July 14, 2023, the House FY 24 bill would cap RRB’s administrative funding at $103 million, a $25 million decrease from FY 23 funding, which is maintained in the Senate FY 24 bill, and over $35 million below the President’s FY 24 Budget Request,” the organizations told Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), Chairwoman, House Committee on Appropriations; Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Ranking Member, House Committee on Appropriations; Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash), Chair, Senate Committee on Appropriations; and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Vice Chair, Senate Committee on Appropriations in the letter (download below). They stressed that at this funding level, RRB would be forced to cut approximately 23% of its current workforce, “dramatically slowing down processing times and service for beneficiaries.”
Incoming Union Pacific CEO Jim Vena will not get a honeymoon with rail labor when he begins leading the railroad on Aug. 14.
Local SMART-TD leaders and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO were critical of the company’s selection of Vena, who served as UP’s chief operating officer in 2019 and 2020.
Vena accelerated UP’s shift to a low-cost Precision Scheduled Railroading operating model. During Vena’s tenure, overall employment at UP fell 21%, according to Surface Transportation Board data, including a 43% reduction in the number of shop workers, a 19% drop in maintenance of way employment, and a 14% decline in train and engine crews.