Car inspections have experienced some of the biggest cuts. Norfolk Southern management has gradually reduced the amount of time workers are allowed to spend inspecting trains for defects before they leave rail yards. About seven years ago, according to Motherboard’s previous reporting and confirmed by Whitaker, management set a recommendation that workers spend no more than two and a half minutes per car. In recent years, that time limit has dwindled to less than 90 seconds per car—not enough time, workers say, to actually inspect anything, when cars can be up to 100 feet in length. Norfolk Southern did not answer Motherboard’s question about the issue of car inspections in its response.
Because of staff cuts, workers who used to inspect hundreds of cars a day now have to inspect a thousand or more, according to multiple Norfolk Southern employees Motherboard interviewed in 2021. They said that managers will pressure workers not to report safety defects they discover, because fixing them will hurt PSR metrics such as the amount of time trains spend in the terminal, which, under PSR’s philosophy, is supposed to be as little as possible. But, if they don’t report a defect and something catastrophic happens on the rails, workers feel vulnerable, believing the company will try to pin responsibility on individual workers not following official protocol. As a result, workers feel they operate under two different, often contradictory rulebooks, one official to maintain a pretense of safety and one unofficial intended to keep trains moving. In this sense, one mechanic who worked for Norfolk Southern for 13 years, told Motherboard that workers can “kind of be screwed one way or the other.”
‘32 Nasty:’ Rail Workers Say They Knew the Train That Derailed in East Palestine Was Dangerous
A freight train carrying toxic chemicals derailed 50 miles outside Pittsburgh, forced thousands to evacuate, and created a toxic cloud. Workers knew the train had safety issues.