Mr Jefferies said the railways had taken several steps to improve safety following the accident in East Palestine. Previously, the industry required railroads to stop and remove a rail car if the temperature of a wheel bearing reached 200 degrees Fahrenheit. In July, the association called for this measure to be increased to 170 degrees. (According to a trackside detector, the East Palestine train’s wheel bearing reached 253 degrees at one point.)
Union Pacific, the largest railroad in the United States by track length, reported a 32 percent increase in accidents during that period. Kristen South, a spokeswoman for the company, said some accidents, such as those caused by objects on the tracks, were beyond the railroad’s control and that the focus should be on “serious” derailments, a category she said after last year at Union Pacific fell by 5 percent.
BNSF, the second-largest U.S. railroad owned by Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, saw a 10 percent increase in accidents during the period. Kendall Kirkham Sloan, a BNSF spokeswoman, said that based on the federal government’s safety measures, the company is the safest railroad in the country and that accidents are reduced through training and technology.
CSX, the third-largest railroad, reported a 31 percent increase in accidents over the 10-month period. Bryan Tucker, a spokesman, said the company’s safety performance had been “challenged” by hiring many new employees after the pandemic, but last year it strengthened its training, which contributed to a sharp decline in accidents in the fourth quarter. As a result, CSX on Wednesday reported an accident rate — which measures accidents as a percentage of distances traveled by trains — that was slightly lower in 2023 than in 2022. (The total number of accidents still increased.)
The five railroads’ overall performance would have been worse last year had it not been for a significant improvement at Norfolk Southern, which reported 29 accidents on its main lines in the first 10 months of 2023, a decline of 37 percent from 46 in the same period of 2022.