The company wanted to “use your community’s safety as their bargaining chip to further pursue their record profits,” the official, Jonathon Long, wrote. He is the general chairman of the American Rail System Federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, a division of the Teamsters.
In many cases, the drive for efficiency has left rail yard workers with less time to inspect train cars, said John Feltz, railroad division director at the Transport Workers Union, which represents car inspectors, car repairmen and other workers at Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern and other companies. As a result, inspectors may miss telltale signs of a broken bearing, such as grease leaks, or other problems.
“If you have enough time to inspect properly, you may have been able to see that was leaking and you could have stopped it right then and there,” he said.
Still, Mr. Feltz said such inspections were limited. Bearings are sealed components and don’t always show signs of problems, such as leaks, the Federal Railroad Administration said in a recent safety advisory. And defective bearings can operate normally for tens of thousands of miles before registering a spike in temperature, according to the agency.
When problems are detected, freight rail companies can remove cars, many of which are owned by shippers or leasing companies, and have them repaired, under the railroad association’s rules. The car’s owners bear the costs.
The first car to derail in East Palestine belonged to GATX, a Chicago-based company that owns about 144,000 rail cars, which it leases to businesses that need to ship goods by rail. In a statement, the company said it took safety issues seriously and was cooperating with the N.T.S.B. investigation.