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Federal Watchdog to Study Freight Rail Safety Following Motherboard Investigation

As Reported by Aaron Gordon for Vice

The Government Accountability Office will launch an investigation into precision scheduled railroading, a business philosophy embraced by North American freight rail companies that a Motherboard investigation revealed has radically slashed safety measures in the name of profit.

The study was requested in May by the chairs of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr.

“In recent years, numerous stakeholders have raised concerns about the railroad management strategy known as precision scheduled railroading (PSR),” the letter requesting the study stated. “Stakeholders are concerned that the rise of the PSR model has come at the expense of long-term capital investments, reduced rail infrastructure, affected service for some shippers, and caused dramatic workforce cuts and safety concerns.”

Charles Young, a spokesperson for GAO, confirmed to Motherboard GAO would conduct the study. Work on the investigation will begin in September. There is no timeline yet for when it might be completed.

“With safety as our focus, frontline railroaders across crafts and the unions that represent these workers look forward to providing their perspective to GAO’s examination of PSR,” said Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, a labor organization consisting of 33 transportation unions. “We are hopeful that by examining the alarming practices and conditions rail employees experience daily, the GAO will shed light on this out-of-control business model.”

Railroad workers have been attempting to raise the alarm over PSR for years, warning that drastic cuts in both men and maintenance is a disaster waiting to happen. “It’s only a matter of time before fatigued workers, unrealistic inspection policies, and unqualified inspections result in a major incident in someone’s neighborhood,” said Jason Cox of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen in a video posted to Youtube in early February. “I implore anyone who might be watching who has the authority to act to please act now.”

Meanwhile, Freight trains continue to derail around the country at an alarming rate. In the last two weeks alone, freight trains have derailed in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Wyoming.