By Danny Weller
Yet another fatal accident has occurred involving a Norfolk Southern train on the morning of Tuesday, March 7, at a steel mill in Cleveland. Norfolk Southern conductor, 46-year-old Louis Shuster, was killed when a locomotive collided with a dump truck at a railway crossing on the grounds of Cleveland-Cliffs’ Cleveland Works. Shuster, the local president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, was standing outside the locomotive when the collision occurred.
This followed swiftly on the heels of the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in Springfield, Ohio, on March 3, 2023. A two-mile-long and 212-car train derailed in the state's southwest, with over twenty cars involved. This derailment is the second serious accident in Ohio in only four days involving Norfolk Southern, coming less than a month after the toxic rail disaster in East Palestine, Ohio. Despite bold claims by Norfolk Southern for more excellent safety and accountability on the railroads, the same dangerous conditions that led to the release of deadly chemicals still exist.
The derailment in Springfield had the potential to be much worse. While there was no significant release of toxic chemicals, four tanker cars were involved in the derailment. Officials claimed they were empty at the time, yet a shelter-in-place order was issued for 10 hours within a 1,000-foot radius of the Springfield accident, and 1,500 people lost power there.
Since the derailment and release of toxic chemicals in East Palestine, the Environmental Protection Agency has steadfastly refused to test for the presence of dioxins in homes and the water supply. Dioxins are a highly toxic group of chemicals that were likely released during the “controlled” burn of chemical tankers, which can cause severe long-term illnesses. The EPA has instead entrusted this task to Norfolk Southern and the study of testing the water supply. Letting the wolf guard the sheep in this manner has already produced poor results in the water supply safety and will likely be repeated with dioxin testing.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg downplayed the seriousness of the derailment, stating that more than “1,000 derailments occur every year.” On March 1, he announced minor safety measures involving inspections of tracks and ageing tanker cars to assuage the outpouring of public anger from the East Palestine community and beyond. Ohio senators J. D. Vance (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) have introduced a similar Bill in the Senate.
These measures, already facing opposition from the Republican Party, do not address fundamental issues in the railway industry. Namely, the tens of thousands of job cuts and maintenance corner-cutting have boosted profits yet seriously undermined railroad safety. Norfolk Southern declared earnings of $2.2 billion in 2022 while releasing 3,500 workers out of the 20,000 total railway job cuts last year.
Railway workers have no means to fight these job cuts and their ramifications for railroad safety. Congress passed a bipartisan ban on a strike by railroaders, specifically called to deal with security and staffing.
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