Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Donald Payne, Jr., Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials have requested that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the impact that the implementation of precision scheduled railroading (PSR) by Class I railroads is having on workers, safety, freight shippers, passenger railroads, and long-term management of the nation’s railroads.
In 2020, the Rail Unions advocated for inclusion of a directive for a GAO study of the PSR business model in the surface transportation reauthorization bill. When that bill did not pass in the last Congress, the Rail Unions urged Chairmen DeFazio and Payne, Jr. to request a GAO study separate from any statutory mandate.
Their request to the GAO is for it to examine the effects of PSR on:
- Train size, including use of longer trains, and the corresponding safety and service effects.
- Safety impacts associated with reductions in workforce, including occupational injury rates, impacts to inspection frequencies, inspection adequacy, repair quality, and changes in workforce levels.
- The elimination or downsizing of yards, repair facilities, and other operational facilities.
- Increases in demurrage or accessorial charges or other costs to shippers.
- Capital expenditures for rail infrastructure.
- Changes to dispatching practices and locations of dispatching centers.
- Increases to the size of signal territories.
- The on-time performance of passenger trains.
- The quality, availability, and reliability of service to freight shippers within a range of industries, particularly shippers that are small and/or geographically remote.
- Railroads’ ability to respond to changes in demand or market conditions, particularly in light of reductions in capital asset and workforce levels.
PSR and the new business model have had a devastating effect on rail workers and the safety and quality of freight rail service. The freight railroads reduced rail employment by about 20% in the four years prior to the pandemic. Among other things, the results have been:
• Operating employees pushed to work beyond the legal “Hours of Service Act” limits; 3-mile-long trains with mixed freight cars that block grade crossings, exceed capabilities for communications from the locomotive to the end of the train, and that cannot be braked as effectively as shorter trains, crew safety and train consist briefings eliminated or conducted on after trains start moving.
• Locomotives released for operation when required inspections have not been completed, locomotives not being cleaned for safe inspections before shop Mechanics begin their inspections; railroad Carmen being required to inspect cars in 60 seconds when they can’t even walk around a car in 60 seconds and to check brake hoses while cars are moving, craft Mechanics being required to do work of other crafts that they are not trained to do.
• Maintenance of Way and Signal employees having to inspect and maintain larger territories than they can properly inspect and maintain, and being pressed to ignore or delay addressing signal and track defects, maintenance of way safety positions have been eliminated, experienced Signalmen have retired because of the changes.
• Train Dispatchers being required to authorize train movements in yards based on remote observations from video cameras and to handle trains moving in opposite directions when sidings on which they can divert trains are too short for the trains operated under PSR.
The effects for shippers have been delays in pickup and delivery of cars, having to change their own work schedules to match the railroads’ inflexible schedules, cars being delivered and picked up when it is convenient for the railroad, long and circuitous routings of their cars, receipt of defective cars, and system congestion due to long trains and inflexible schedules.
All of these problems prompted rail unions and rail shippers to urge that the GAO study this new operating model of the railroads.