The article by Doug Turner, headlined "Congress Renews Calls for CSX Investigation," is a timely wake-up call and highlights the arrogance of CSX railroad and its callous approach to safety.
Turner pointed out that "the massive train wreck in Oneida" was "the latest in an epidemic of CSX accidents in upstate New York." Turner probably did not know that two CSX employees had been killed on the railroad in the last five months.
Rep. Brian Higgins and Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton have called for safety investigations of CSX. As a longtime railroad union officer, I applaud their efforts, and hope they are not too late. For years, the union has been complaining about near misses, faulty signal systems, bad track, unsafe operating practices, etc.
Most of these complaints have been ignored by both CSX and the Federal Railroad Administration. Unfortunately, as Schumer points out, the Railroad Administration, which is supposed to monitor and enforce safety, is basically in bed with the railroads.
Even though CSX grosses approximately $8 billion per year, it has continued to defer track and signal maintenance while simultaneously eliminating way and signal maintainer jobs. CSX has also implemented remote control operations and have replaced live engineers with a "black box" to do the switching and train moves.
The remote control operation presents a serious situation in which railroad tank cars, dangerous chemical cars and other railroad cars are switched out by remote control, with no one operating the locomotive, and/or protecting the back end.
Two CSX Syracuse employees were recently killed during remote control moves. Complaints to the Federal Railroad Administration and railroads about safety problems have fallen on deaf ears. As Schumer pointed out, "the fox is truly watching the chicken coop."
CSX's arrogance is further evidenced in its recent decision to accuse a CSX union officer of "conduct unbecoming a CSX employee." Frustrated by inaction, he had the audacity to tell the local newspaper about unsafe remote control switching moves that could seriously endanger the public, as well as CSX workers.
A Feb. 20 article in the Toledo Blade exposed CSX unsafe practices and infuriated CSX. The company filed disciplinary charges and threatened dismissal. The union officer has been penalized 30 days with no pay for attempting to alert the public to dangers the railroad knew about, yet tried to hide.
It was lucky that the Oneida disaster occurred in an open field and not in a town or city. Buffalo and Niagara Falls rail yards handle hundreds of dangerous chemical cars daily. Only public pressure will change CSX's attitude. The public can no longer allow "the fox" to guard the chicken coop.
John F. Collins is the New York State legislative chairman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.