FRA Certification Helpline: (216) 694-0240

(Source: Office of U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), May 15, 2024)

Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) called on the six Class I railroads to address severe staffing shortages that are endangering workers, increasing the risk of derailments and accidents, and raising costs for Wisconsin farmers, businesses, and consumers. In letters to Union Pacific Railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation, Canadian Pacific Kansas City, and Canadian National Railway, Senator Baldwin called on the railroads to provide an update on their long-term staffing strategies to get this vital service back on track.’

“Farmers, manufacturers, paper mills, energy producers and many other industries are dependent on efficient and cost-effective freight rail. In recent years, service levels from Class I railroads experienced severe disruptions and certain metrics, particularly staffing, have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels,” wrote Senator Baldwin. “Unfortunately, recent trends suggest much of the industry is reversing any progress that was made, leaving the system brittle and vulnerable to future service problems and safety incidents moving forward.”

Since the implementation of precision scheduled railroading, a strategy to reduce costs by using longer trains and fewer staff, Class I railroads have reduced their overall number of staff by nearly 30 percent from 2011 through 2021. Union Pacific, for example, went from 37,501 employees in 2016 to 26,713 in 2022 – a 28.76% decrease. This is compared with only a 3% decrease in carloads and 1% decrease in tons of freight over the same period. According to the Surface Transportation Board in an April 2022 hearing, staffing shortages were often cited as a major reason for exceptionally poor service levels.

In the letters, Senator Baldwin asked the Class I railroads about their future plans for operations and staffing for the remainder of this year, including whether they plan on conducting any furloughs to further reduce staff. In their response to her letter, Senator Baldwin asked each of the six Class I railroads to address:

  • Staffing Levels and Poor Service: Whether the railroad’s current train and engine employee headcount is adequate to meet current and projected service demand.
  • Adequate Staffing to Ensure Safety: Whether the railroad’s current and projected staffing levels are sufficient to meet the highest level of safety for employees and communities where a railroad operates.
  • Identify Capacity Constraints and Solutions: Any specific locations on the railroad’s network that is currently experiencing sustained congestion due in whole or in part to staff limitations and capacity constraints, and what actions are being taken to alleviate congestion, including re-routes or infrastructure enhancement.
  • Provide Number of Train Starts: The total number of trains operated monthly to better understand the impact of changes in operations on safety and service.
  • Proactive Communication with Customers: Initiatives to proactively communicate with shippers regarding service issues.

“The quality of rail safety and service has deteriorated in recent years, in large part due to furloughs and cuts to the rail workforce. As America’s largest transportation labor federation, representing thousands of rail workers, we have repeatedly called on Class I railroads to deliver adequate staffing levels and conduct proper inspections of their trains,” said Greg Regan, President of Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. “We applaud Senator Baldwin for recognizing the challenges that rail workers have faced the last few years and for demanding answers from the railroads about their long-term staffing strategies.”

Full copies of Senator Baldwin’s letters to the six Class I railroads can be found at the link below.

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