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The integrity of the rails and bridges throughout Pittsburgh and Allegheny County is crucial to our safety, to the well-being of our region, and to the sanctity of our water supply.  However, Norfolk Southern Railway has a long history of either not inspecting their equipment and infrastructure properly - or of disregarding the results of its inspections - in addition to using old worn rails and wheels, and delaying maintenance on its own rail bridges.  The Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have repeatedly cited Norfolk Southern for "serious oversights" in their operations, inspections, and maintenance of this critical infrastructure, especially in light of their derailment at Station Square in 2018.

And just this year, a whistleblower filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act lawsuit against Norfolk Southern which exposes additional problems related to pre-departure inspections.

The Public Utility Commission and the Federal Rail Safety Administration have jurisdiction over rail and bridge safety and can require Norfolk Southern to perform better.  Please demand that they do so by cutting and pasting the following letter and emailing it to the listed recipients.
  • PUC Secretary Rosemary Chiavetta
  • PUC Transportation Division Manager Rodney Bender
  • FRA Administrator (Acting) Amit Bose
  • FRA Associate Administrator for Railroad Policy and Development Paul Nissenbaum,
  • FRA Safety Management Team 3 – Norfolk Southern
  • Representative Conor Lamb Transportation Head Heather Painter

Dear Secretary Chiavetta, Division Manager Bender, FRA Administrator Bose, FRA Associate Administrator Nissenbaum, FRA Safety Team Manager, and Lamb Transportation Head Painter:

I am writing because the integrity of Norfolk Southern’s rail and bridge infrastructure throughout Pittsburgh and Allegheny County is crucial to our safety, to the well-being of our region, and to the sanctity of our water supply.

According to reports filed by Norfolk Southern with the Federal Railroad Administration, between 2015 and through September 2020, Norfolk Southern has documented a total of 834 accidents within Pennsylvania.
In addition, there is a history of Norfolk Southern derailments that have resulted in Federal Railroad Administration and National Transportation Safety Board findings of “serious oversights” in its operations, inspections, and maintenance.  For more details, see Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh’s email concerning the August 2018 Southside derailment.

In connection with an 83-car derailment off of the Beaver River Bridge in New Brighton, PA the NTSB found an “inadequate rail inspection and maintenance program that resulted in a rail fracture from an undetected internal defect.”  The report also determined that a contributing cause was the “Federal Railroad Administration’s inadequate oversight of the internal rail inspection process and its insufficient requirements for internal rail inspection.”  For more details, see RP3's email.

Notwithstanding the New Brighton and Southside derailments, railroads are allowed to continue to self-regulate how far down they can wear their rails.  Meanwhile, allowable individual rail car weight has increased from 263,000 to 284,000 pounds.  Heavier cars and the fact that train length is doubling make track wear and failure more likely—and this regularly compromises our safety, especially at rail bridges which are the most vulnerable point on a route.  Norfolk Southern has a long history of paying multi-million dollar fines to the EPA for environmental violations caused by derailments spilling hazardous materials into our Western Pennsylvania rivers.

Moreover, since those safety alerts were compiled, it has now come to our attention that between October 20, 2020 and December 2, 2020, Norfolk Southern has had eight other significant derailments within its system, two of which were off of collapsed corroded bridges -- in Clymer, Pennsylvania and Roanoke, Virginia.

Most recently, a veteran 21-year Norfolk Southern Locomotive Engineer filed a federal court Whistleblower lawsuit which plainly states that Norfolk Southern prioritizes on time departures over adequate pre-departure inspections required by the Federal Railroad Safety Act.  See our Whistleblower email.

Taking into account especially the layoffs of inspectors and maintenance personnel that has occurred within the Norfolk Southern system since 2019, and the fact that highly volatile Liquid Natural Gas under pressure will soon be transported through our most densely populated neighborhoods, we feel that it is necessary and prudent to obtain your focus and engagement on Norfolk Southern’s inspection protocols and on its maintenance of corroded rail bridges in Western Pennsylvania.

In order to prevent catastrophic derailments in the future, we hereby request that additional rail safety inspection oversight be implemented and performed by both the Pennsylvania Utility Commission and the Federal Railroad Administration.

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

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