February 1, 2021

Rail work more dangerous

Militant readers may be interested to know about a recent decision by the Federal Railroad Administration to reduce the brake tests required on freight trains. A train or cars can now be left parked with the brake system off for up to 24 hours, instead of four hours, without having to make a complete inspection to ensure the brakes all work.

The new regulations also allow carriers to have brake systems tested on rail cars every two or four years, instead of annually. The FRA boasts this will save rail bosses more than $500 million over the next 10 years.

This shows how government agencies like the Federal Railroad Administration act to defend the bosses’ interests, putting their profits ahead of the safety of train crews and working people who live near the tracks. It boosts the freight operators’ drive to slash jobs, lengthen trains and squeeze more work out of less workers.

Working people saw the horrendous impact of the rulers’ productivity drive in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013, when a loaded oil train whose air brakes had bled out rolled into town, exploding and killing 47 people. Disasters like this stem directly from the rail bosses’ train-crew cuts, reduction in maintenance, and other government-abetted attacks on working conditions.

Rail workers need to fight for workers control over production through our unions, as the Socialist Workers Party’s action program explains. We should demand doubling train crews and reversing cuts in maintenance. Reduce train lengths, now up to two or three miles, to 50 cars, bring back cabooses or add an engine to the rear of every train. This would increase safety and require large-scale hiring of train crews and maintenance workers, much needed as millions are out of work.

Mobilizing rail workers and others to fight for measures like these is the way forward, not lobbying politicians or looking to the pro-boss Federal Railroad Administration.

Naomi Craine, rail conductor
Chicago, Illinois