Mr. Jefferies said the railroads had taken several steps after the East Palestine accident to improve safety. Previously, the industry required that railroads stop and remove a rail car if a wheel bearing’s temperature hit 200 degrees Fahrenheit. In July, the association required that action at 170 degrees. (The wheel bearing on the East Palestine train at one point reached 253 degrees, according to a track-side detector.)
Union Pacific, the largest railroad in the United States as determined by miles of track, reported a 32 percent increase in accidents in the period. Kristen South, a company spokeswoman, said that some accidents, like those caused by objects on the track, were beyond a railroad’s control and that the focus should be on “serious” derailments, a category that she said fell 5 percent last year at Union Pacific.
BNSF, the second-largest U.S. railroad, owned by Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, showed a 10 percent increase in accidents in the period. Kendall Kirkham Sloan, a BNSF spokeswoman, said that the company was the safest railroad in the country, based on the federal government’s measures of safety, and that accidents were being reduced by training and technology.
CSX, the third-largest railroad, reported a 31 percent increase in accidents in the 10-month period. Bryan Tucker, a spokesman, said the company’s safety performance had been “challenged” by its hiring of many new employees after the pandemic, but last year it bolstered its training, and that contributed to a steep drop in accidents in the fourth quarter. As a result, CSX on Wednesday reported an accident rate — which measures accidents as a percentage of the distances traveled by trains — that was slightly lower in 2023 than in 2022. (Its total accidents still rose.)
The five railways’ total performance last year would have been worse had it not been for significant improvement at Norfolk Southern, which reported 29 accidents in the first 10 months of 2023 on its main lines, down 37 percent from 46 in the same period of 2022.