Following a string of high-profile derailments, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a warning that super-long trains are dangerous, although the railroad industry strenuously disagrees.
At this point, the FRA has issued two non-binding advisories recommending that the railroads take a number of steps designed to make freight rail operations safe – but none of these recommendations specifically call on the railroads to run shorter trains.
The new advisory stated, “Freight train length has increased in recent years, and while research is ongoing related to operational aspects of long trains, including brake system performance, it is known that the in-train forces longer trains experience are generally stronger and more complex than those in shorter train consists.”
The nation’s railroads assert that the advisory is unnecessary because longer trains are no more dangerous than shorter ones and say their safety record over the years shows this to be the case.
Longer trains, up to several miles long, were adopted as part of the Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) cost-cutting operations model that was adopted over the past six years on most Class 1 railroads.
Railroad unions have charged that excessive train lengths combined with onerous attendance policies have too often left exhausted crews operating this equipment in dangerous circumstances.
Small towns across the country have testified several times before Congress objecting to these super long trains, pointing out that when stopped, they can cut a community in two, which ends up making it impossible for children to get to school and road traffic to pass, including emergency vehicles which cannot reach those who need them.