After Ohio derailment, says industry must make changes
Rep. Pat Ryan, whose district includes Beacon, this week called on CSX to adopt safety measures he said could prevent accidents in the Hudson Valley similar to the Feb. 3 accident in East Palestine, Ohio, in which a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous material derailed and caught fire.
CSX operates tracks along the western shore of the Hudson River through the Highlands that Ryan said can see as many as 20 freight trains per day, including as many as five carrying Bakken crude oil.
In a statement, Ryan, who is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he had written CSX President and CEO Joseph Hinrichs about his concerns. Ryan also called for a congressional hearing on rail safety.
“We’ve seen a disturbing pattern of CSX consistently putting profit over safety, creating serious risk that what happened in Ohio could repeat itself right here in the Hudson Valley,” Ryan alleged. “Just like Norfolk Southern, CSX and other big rail corporations spent millions lobbying the last president to deregulate the railways, resulting in the administration withdrawing a proposal to require faster brakes on trains carrying highly flammable materials and ending regular rail safety audits.”
Torrance Harvey, the mayor of Newburgh, noted that a CSX derailment in 2017 caused by a man lift that stalled on the tracks, spilled 4,600 tons of diesel fuel. “I am worried a future derailment could cause even more damage,” he said in a statement. “CSX cannot stand by while communities of color like mine sit on what feels like a ticking time bomb.”
Gary Bassett, the mayor of Rhinebeck who heads a group of seven municipalities in Dutchess and Ulster counties (not including Beacon) that take their drinking water from the river, said the group notified CSX in 2021 of its concern about potential bridge failures that might lead to spills into the Hudson.
Ryan called for Congress to increase the fines for rail safety violations from the current maximum of $225,455; expand regulation of hazardous shipments; increase the use of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes; speed up the phase-in of new tank cars for hazardous materials, which now extends to 2029; and increase funding for hazardous-materials training for first responders
Ryan also called on the freight rail industry to join a program that allows employees to confidentially report safety concerns and to provide notice to emergency response teams when hazardous tank cars will travel through their state.
CSX issued this statement in response to issues raised by Ryan in his letter:
We certainly understand the concern the Norfolk Southern derailment in Ohio has created for communities located around railroads throughout the nation. Safety is our No. 1 priority. It’s a commitment we make to our employees, our customers and the communities through which we operate. CSX’s approach to delivering our customer’s goods safely is holistic focusing on infrastructure and equipment investment, training and operational improvements, technology deployment and community outreach and preparedness. Freight rail remains the safest and most environmentally-friendly way to transport essential hazardous materials, with a 99.995 percent success rate.
While safety is something we never stop working to improve, CSX has led the freight-rail industry with the fewest Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reportable train accidents and lowest average FRA reportable injury rate since 2019. We support congressional funding to grade separate roads and rails, as accidents at grade crossings, along with trespasser fatalities, remain the top two areas related to rail-related injuries and fatalities, such as the fatality in Kingston mentioned by Rep. Ryan [in his letter]. We are glad to join Congress and the FRA in partnering with Operation Lifesaver to educate citizens of the dangers at crossings and pedestrian trespass on tracks which account for 95 percent of all rail fatalities.
CSX has consistently increased spending on core infrastructure – track, bridges, and signals. In 2023, CSX will spend $2.3 billion in our capital program, with $1.7 billion going to core infrastructure – track, bridges, and signals that provide safe and reliable train operations. In 2021, CSX spent nearly $87 million on New York infrastructure alone, including permanent repairs to the CSX bridge between Highland and Milton on the River Subdivision. CSX has also made significant investments into our employees, training and technology. This ranges from positive train control to limit human-factor accidents in locomotives, updating and adding additional track side detectors which have led to less incidents with overheated wheels and bearings, automated track inspection technologies that have enabled us to increase track inspections by 40 percent, locomotive and crane simulators, drones and new investments in pilot project on train inspection portals.
CSX is also actively engaged with our employees to ensure they feel valued. Immediately after the conclusion of the latest round of contractual negotiations — which gave them a historical 24 percent increase in wages, $5,000 in bonus payments, and other benefits — CSX management began discussions with our unions on other quality-of-life issues. In December, CSX announced changes to our attendance policy and in February we have already reached paid sick day agreements with six of our unions while continuing discussions with the others.
For security reasons, CSX does not disclose how and where it transports sensitive materials to the public. CSX complies with federal law concerning rail security and emergency preparedness, working with Local Emergency Planning Committees, county and state emergency management agencies to ensure they have a comprehensive list of hazardous commodities transported in their communities so that first responders are prepared in the extremely rare case that a hazmat incident should occur. We work closely with first responders across our network and regulatory agencies to ensure proper planning and safety protocols are followed to protect our communities, employees and customers. In 2022, CSX conducted 40 training events totaling over 2,900 hours of training educating 3,609 first responders, contractors and local government officials across our network. In 2023, we will have our rail safety train back in New York for hands on training for two weeks in September.
You can find information about the percentage of hazardous materials being transported by CSX in NY at Hazardous Materials – CSX.com. You can find further information about CSX and what we transport in New York state at State Information – CSX.com.