Probe Uncovers 3,500 Safety Violations on CSX Railroad Properties

March 29, 2007

Federal railroad officials said this week that an investigation found more than 3,500 problems with CSX Corp. railroad properties in 23 states, a probe started in response to a series of accidents involving the company’s trains.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s inspection, conducted over four days in January after a derailment on Jan 16 in East Rochester, N.Y., recommended that CSX be fined for 199 violations, including failure to replace defective rails, failure to make repairs and improper handling of hazardous materials.

Joseph Boardman, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said in a prepared statement that CSX “is still not doing enough to make safety a top priority.”

The agency’s inspectors, he said, “identified problems in every area of the company’s safety performance, including track, hazardous materials and on-track equipment.”

In the inspection released Tuesday, federal railroad inspectors found 3,518 defects, or less-severe problems with railroad equipment or operating practices — such as not using radios or switches properly. A violation is a more serious infraction that usually mean a penalty.

CSX, in a prepared statement, said it would “continue to work closely and promptly” with federal railroad officials to solve the issues identified. The company said its safety record has been improving with an overall 24 percent reduction in train accidents last year.

Last week, Michael Ward, CSX’s chief executive, told analysts that the railroad operator won’t cut down on spending, especially on projects related to safety, to improve cash flow.

“That’s something we won’t even consider,” Ward told analysts at the JP Morgan Aviation & Transportation Conference in New York.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is pushing for tougher penalties for fatal rail accidents and negligent railroad companies, said the report shows CSX is not making safety enough of a priority.

“This scathing report confirms our worst fears about CSX’s safety record in upstate New York and across the country,” Schumer said. “It’s not a coincidence or just bad luck that there has been a rash of accidents and near misses. CSX is simply not putting the energy, effort, and resources into safety.”

Earlier this month, 28 cars on an 80-car freight train in upstate New York jumped the tracks. Eight tanker cars contained flammable substances and caught fire, forcing the temporary evacuation of thousands of residents. The incident marked the fifth derailment involving CSX in New York since December.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX is also rebounding from a derailment in Brooks, Ky., which so far has cost the railroad $30 million. Other recent derailments have occurred in Maryland and Ohio, according to railroad officials.

Federal railroad officials said March 19 they would check nearly 1,300 miles of track in New York State for problems, including heavily used CSX tracks between Albany and Buffalo. Boardman has said that has met with top CSX executives to discuss safety.

At the analysts’ meeting, Ward said CSX reinvested $1.4 billion into its operations last year and plans to spend the same this year. About 58 percent of that money will go to its infrastructure, while it will spend 12 percent on both locomotives and freight cars, he said.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX operates a 22,000-mile rail network, covering 23 states, the District of Columbia, and two Canadian provinces. The company holds primary responsibility for making sure its tracks are safe.

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Associated Press Writer William Kates in Syracuse, N.Y. contributed to this report.

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