Union Rips PSR in Letter to STB

The adoption of the precision scheduled railroading operating model is the culprit behind service issues that Class 1 railroads are having, a railroad labor union has told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The SMART Transportation Division wrote in the April 1 letter that the nation’s freight railroad network is “at a breaking point” and “cannot sustain any more reductions.” The union, which represents 40,000 railroad workers, wants the STB to intervene.

The letter said crew shortages that Class 1 railroads have blamed for service issues are self-inflicted hindrances that railroads brought on by their adoption of PSR.

The concerns raised by the union are similar to those raised earlier this spring by a trade association that represents grain shippers.

Railroads reduced their worker ranks during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic when freight traffic plunged.

But after traffic began rebounding, some furloughed workers chose not to return to their railroad jobs. The Class 1 carriers have characterized this as being higher than usual compared with previous times when furloughed workers were recalled.

The union letter said about 33 percent of the country’s railroad workforce was laid off when PSR was initially implemented and thousands of locomotives were placed in storage.

One hallmark of how PSR has been implemented in the United States by Class 1 railroads is operating fewer, but longer, trains.

Class 1 railroads have been actively seeking to hire new conductors in areas with acute crew shortages but have bumped up against a tight labor market.

The union letter cited other operational changes that have adversely affected freight service.

It said that in an effort to save fuel crews have been restricted from operating trains at maximum authorized speeds.

“ . . . they are directed to limit the locomotive’s throttle position, acceleration, and overall train speed to no more than forty  mph. This not only impedes system fluidity, but it greatly hamstrings a railroad’s ability to service customers.”

As the union sees it, Class 1 railroads are now in a position of not having enough crew members or locomotives “to operate the necessary number of trains required to provide a level of service that equals the current level of demand.”

The union’s letter also took aim at railroad attendance policies that the union said require train crews to work 29 out of 30 days per month.

 “Not only has morale dropped to an all-time low, but employees are also leaving the industry in unprecedented numbers,” the union wrote.

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