Reported by David Sparkman for Material Handling and Logistics.
The service deterioration on the nation’s Class 1 railroads is approaching the point of becoming a national security issue, shippers informed the Surface Transportation Board (STB) at hearings held April 26-27, where they described how it already has added to the supply chain crisis, inflation and damaged the nation’s ability to recover economically from COVID-19.
In March, rail shippers also presented similar information at an STB hearing on reciprocal switching, and now the crisis has even seized the attention of the highest levels of the federal government. On April 26 White House press secretary Jen Psaki mentioned the STB hearing at her daily press briefing and on that day Pete Buttigieg became the first secretary of transportation to testify in person before the STB.
Along with remarking on rail staffing shortages, Buttigieg pointed out that the agriculture sector has been “significantly impacted by the railroad’s service delays, especially when it comes to obtaining the necessary amount of fertilizer and chemicals that are critical for the growing season.”
Returning to Service
All of the railroad unions testified at the board hearing, and none of them bought the railroads’ excuses. Their testimony depicts a disheartening situation in which rail workers, their ranks already thinned by PSR, are being overworked, a practice that drives more of them to retire early or seek work elsewhere
“Despite the claims made by the Class I carriers, it is simply impossible to provide an equivalent level of service after eliminating a third of the workforce in less than a decade,” said Greg Regan, president of Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO. “These cuts have guaranteed that adequate crews will be unavailable, that equipment and infrastructure will not be adequately maintained and that critical inspections will be deferred. TTD categorically rejects the absurd claim that the hard work of those 45,000 employees had no demonstrable impact on the quality of service offered by Class I railroads.”
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