Regulators broaden push for railroad staffing, safety

By Mike Lee | 03/01/2024 01:32 PM EST

Officials are warning railroads not to put profit over safety.

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on fire in February 2023. Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo

Two federal agencies criticized one of the country’s largest freight railroads — and the industry more broadly — for cutting its workforce at a time when the industry’s safety record is in question.

Officials at the Federal Railroad Administration and the Surface Transportation Board are raising concerns about cutting workers and warned the industry not to put profit over safety. The push comes on the heels of several significant derailments in the last year, which resulted in chemical explosions and oil spills, leaving communities with environmental and public health worries.

Union Pacific, the second-biggest railroad by mileage, had more than 750 workers out on furlough in December, and its equipment maintenance workforce has shrunk from about 9,000 in 2017 to less than 5,000 this year, according to the FRA. The railroad has also moved to prevent the FRA from accessing its staffing levels, FRA Administrator Amit Bose said Thursday in a letter to Union Pacific CEO Jim Vena.


“UP has again chosen to prioritize cost-cutting measures over ensuring safe operations, jeopardizing the well-being of both UP’s workers and the public,” Bose wrote.