The avarice of private railroad companies around the world has been leading to deaths for well over a century. Unfortunately, the trend of privatization is continuing and with it comes cuts which result in reduced safety for both railway workers and the general public.
While this issue is nothing new, it has come back into the public consciousness with the horrific derailment in Ohio of a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals (which were subsequently detonated into a mushroom cloud of doom over East Palestine) and in Greece where a passenger train collided with a freight train leaving nearly 60 people dead.
Train derailments and crashes are not isolated, or even particularly rare incidents. On the contrary they are quite a regular occurrence. In fact, between 2005 and 2021, there were an average of just under 1500 derailments per year. This may come as a surprise to most people, though with the low casualty rate of many such incidents, it is not all that astonishing that few, if any, make the headlines.
However, the shocking images and suffering from both the derailment in Ohio and the crash in Greece were difficult to ignore. The shocking greed that led to them should be as well.
The tragedy in Ohio comes just months after US President Biden decided to crush a potential strike by rail workers. The workers were asking for increased sick leave, as many must give notice far in advance in order to obtain permission. This is compounded by “precision scheduled railroading” which is a scheme intended to maximize profits and efficacy, but has instead led to unorganized schedules that often require workers to be on call 24/7.
This scheme allowed rail companies to cut the jobs of over 40,000 rail workers and led many other to simply quit due to the insane schedules and inability to spend time with their families or simply relaxing.
Workers must deal with all of this while simultaneously living through an ongoing COVID pandemic, where one could get deathly ill at any moment and risk their job if they call in sick.
While the US Senate, who has universal healthcare and only works about 3 weekends a year, denied this request for basic human decency, workers have continued fighting, and have seemed to make some progress as of late. However, there is still much to do to make railroads in America, and around the world, safer for both the workers and the communities they travel through. Much of this starts with stamping out the greed of private owners.
Last year, Norfolk Southern, made $3 billion in profits. On top of this, they spent $4 billion on stock buybacks. All while slashing the amount of workers and bemoaning that they weren’t able to provide the benefits and safety (whether through increased staffing or trains with upgraded safety features) workers have been calling for.
Similar complaints have been seen in the case of the Greek train crash. Workers have gone on strike complaining about understaffing and negligence on the part of railway owners. These strikes are still ongoing. Greece privatized its railways, b0th freight and passenger services, in 2016.
With the huge impact that freight rail brings us, not to mention passenger rail lines helping get people where they’re going, the workers must be much better taken care of. If rail CEOs can be afforded salaries in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention all the stock buybacks, they can afford to ensure workers can have time to spend with their families and rest if they are sick.
Unfortunately, they have proven time and time again that they are incapable of giving their workers even the most basic level of decency. Thus leaving the American populace, and the populations of all countries with privatized rail services around the world, only one choice. Nationalize the railways.
Along with this passenger rail services, especially in America, should be greatly expanded. Doing so would make the country, and the world, a much more traversable place for everyone. It would also be a much safer way to travel. On top of all of this, it would be a much more environmentally friendly way for people to quickly move around.
The choice is clear.