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As you know, Norfolk Southern’s Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance Project will result in a significant daily increase in the volume of less stable double stack trains running next to volatile oil trains on a zig-zag route through our city’s most densely populated neighborhoods. I’m sure we can all agree that we want Norfolk Southern to do whatever is required under the Federal Rail Safety Act (FLSA) to keep those trains from going off the rails. Anything less would have catastrophic consequences. 
The problem here is that while Norfolk Southern touts safety, behind closed doors, they appear to be promoting profits over prudence.  We know this because of what was said in a Complaint that was filed in US District Court for Western Pennsylvania.  Specifically, it appears from the Complaint that Norfolk Southern is sacrificing safety in order to meet departure times. The FLSA whistleblower lawsuit was filed on behalf of Russell Puzausky -a 21-year veteran Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer working out of the Norfolk Southern’s Conway yard in Beaver County. Puzausky v. Norfolk Southern Corp., Docket No. 2:21-cv-00606 (W.D. Pa., May 21, 2021)
According to the Complaint:

  • During a three-month period, Engineer Puzausky made 40 federal safety rule violations that either “took these trains out of service, or delayed their departure while additional inspections or repairs were performed." Engineer Puzausky believed that "these safety violations were especially significant because of on-board hazardous materials." (Paragraphs 10-13);
  • Engineer Puzausky was told that the local management team could "no longer tolerate" the delays caused by his reporting of non-compliant locomotives “...because it was causing them to ‘get their asses chewed out’ by their superiors.” (Paragraphs 14, 18);  
  • After three months of these safety reports, Engineer Puzausky was given a “Job Aid“ document (used throughout Norfolk Southern’s system) which capped the amount of time allotted for an engineer to board the locomotive and couple the rail equipment into a train for departure. However, the Complaint states that "the Job Aid’s allotted time was insufficient to perform a thorough inspection in order to comply with Norfolk Southern and federal regulations." (Paragraphs 27-36);  
  • According to Complaint Paragraph 37, Engineer Puzausky “had previously been told that on time departure was more important than adequate pre-departure inspection, and the Job Aid confirmed that Norfolk Southern had chosen productivity over safety. This was especially distressing because most of his trains carried hazardous materials.”  
  • Engineer Puzausky was terminated for failing to comply with timelines, triggers, and escalations in the assigned Job Aids document.  
  • The Complaint further states that Engineer Puzausky’s “reporting of unsafe locomotive conditions, and refusal to operate a locomotive that had not been inspected as required by federal law and regulations or had some defect or other problem that rendered it unusable by federal law and regulations was protected by 49 U.S.C. €20109(a)(2) and (b)(1), and his discharge for reporting noncompliant locomotives and refusing to operate non-compliant equipment constitutes a violation of the FRSA.”
 For any of this to make sense, you need to know that Norfolk Southern has staked its competitive financial future on a relatively new business model called Precision Scheduled Railroading - which is based in the first instance on the locomotive leaving on time.  For more information, see Page 4 of their 2019 Annual Report.
This case is important because it calls into question whether there is system-wide top-down pressure on engineers to shortcut inspections, through the Job Aid or otherwise, throughout Norfolk Southern’s network. It is especially troubling to the 27 neighborhoods impacted by the railroad’s Vertical Clearance Project.
Why do you care?
  • 127,000 residents live in the derailment blast zone along the 20-mile proposed modified route between McKees Rocks and East Braddock (74% of whom live in Environmental Justice Areas.);
    • Pittsburgh’s most critical infrastructure is at risk;
    • all of Pittsburgh’s major hospitals;
    • museums (whose collections have national treasure status);
    • 3 stadiums;
    • the Convention Center;
    • the NRG power plant;
    • telephone switching stations on the Northside;
    • 124 public and private schools;
    • 5 universities (with combined enrollment of 75,000 students);
    • 77 bridges (bridges in the city of Pittsburgh and bridges owned by Allegheny County);
    • 6 nursing homes with a total bed count of 920; and,
    • 108 parks
  • Norfolk Southern has a history of “serious inspection and operations oversights.”  See
 What can you do about it?
  • Ask your city, county, state and federal representatives and ask the PUC and the FRA for special inspection oversight and to:
    • Determine whether Norfolk Southern is allowing sufficient time for pre-departure locomotive and equipment inspections
    • Require emergency response plans funded by Norfolk Southern – including training equipment, communication systems, qualified officials to coordinate first responders, and cleanup
    • Require the railroad’s proof of financial responsibility – posting of bonds and adequate insurance
    • Require the railroad to be held to a strict liability standard for all oil spills, all resulting damages, restoration of natural resources, fees on all off-loaded oil, punitive damages
  • Here is who to contact:

 We can agree that our state and federal rail safety agencies must ensure that Norfolk Southern allows adequate time for required inspections, and that all rail employees must be able to freely report unsafe conditions and violations of federal statutes and regulations.  This will ensure that the Federal Rail Administration has the necessary information to develop and to administer an effective rail safety regulatory program that promotes safety in every area of Norfolk Southern’s operations.
The foregoing constitutes the sole opinion and belief of RP3.

Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh
Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh
Copyright © 2021 Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh (RP3), All rights reserved.

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