Report: Workers on Derailed Train Thought It Was Too Big

'If nothing changes, it will happen again,' says rep for one of the Norfolk Southern workers unions
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2023 6:41 AM CST
Report: Workers on Derailed Train Thought It Was Too Big
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio.   (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The chemical-laden freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3 was a rather large one: more than 150 cars, stretching for 9,300 feet and weighing 18,000 tons. Now, Norfolk Southern workers are saying they were concerned before the accident about the train's size, and that it likely contributed to both the derailment and an earlier breakdown after it left Illinois on Feb. 1, reports CBS News. "We shouldn't be running trains that are 150 car lengths long," one worker tells the news outlet, adding that if the train hadn't been so heavy, "it's very likely the effects of the derailment would have been mitigated." Two workers who spoke to Motherboard also suggested the train was a safety risk.

Sarah Feinberg, who used to head up the Federal Railroad Administration, concurs that the train's size may have been problematic. She notes that during her time at the FRA, "I was not happy with the lengths of the trains, and they were 80 or 90 cars long." The one that derailed had 151 cars. It takes workers longer to inspect such a train, even though adding more cars might prove more efficient overall to railway companies. Jared Cassity, the national legislative director for one of the Norfolk Southern workers unions, says that with shorter inspection times in the name of such efficiency, it was likely the car that derailed earlier this month hadn't been inspected "in some time."

"Combine that with the added length and tonnage, plus the fact that it had all this hazardous material, and this was predictable," he says of the crash, which later led to a controlled burn that emitted a toxic plume into the sky. "If nothing changes, it will happen again." In a statement, Norfolk Southern calls some of the allegations being made about the train's size "simply false," noting that "the weight distribution of this train was uniform throughout," and that it had a locomotive in the middle of the train that "helps manage the dynamic forces of the train and reduces occurrences of broken knuckles," per WKBN. USA Today reports more on why larger trains are so dangerous, and on how and why this kind of accident might become a recurring one. (More derailment stories.)

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