Before the 50-car Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, the train had experienced a mechanical failure on the route, according to train employees.
The 151-car, 18,000-ton train, which began its journey in Madison, Illinois, reportedly broke down on the evening of February 1, according to train employees. This breakdown occurred just two days before the crash in East Palestine.
“We shouldn’t be running trains that are 150 car lengths long,” an employee told CBS News. “There should be some limitations to the weight and the length of the trains. In this case, had the train not been 18,000 tons, it’s very likely the effects of the derailment would have been mitigated.”
But a Norfolk Southern spokesperson told CBS News that “the weight distribution of this train was uniform throughout” with a mid-train locomotive “which helps manage the dynamic forces of the train” and reduces mechanical issues.
“Assigning a ‘reputation’ to a train that fluctuates by thousands of tons on a regular basis is inaccurate,” the spokesperson continued, saying a “longer and heavier train” used to take the same route as the derailed train.
“There’s a good chance the car that derailed had not been properly inspected for some time,” said SMART Transportation Division Alt. National Legislative Director Director Jared Cassity, whose union represents many railroad workers. “You combine that with the added length and tonnage, plus the fact that it had all this hazardous material, and this was predictable. If nothing changes, it will happen again.”
“Two years ago SMART President Jeremy Ferguson warned your publication and anyone that would listen that something like this was going to happen,” a Norfolk Southern employee told Motherboard. “They’re going to keep happening if regulators continue to allow this business model to ravage our nation’s freight rail system in the pursuit of profit. My fear is that these corporations have so much money and political influence that nothing is going to change.”
Another employee added to Motherboard that the derailed train had been nicknamed “32 Nasty.”
“When I was FRA administrator, I was not happy with the lengths of the trains, and they were 80 or 90 cars long,” said former administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Sarah Feinberg. “This train was 50% longer.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted in December that Precision Schedule Railroading (PSR), implemented by the railroad industry for cost-efficiency reasons, has catalyzed longer trains and a 28% reduction in staff among the nation’s seven largest freight railroads, including Norfolk Southern.