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Guest Opinion

Feeling cross at the railroad crossing


Like everyone in Bucks County, when I get stuck waiting for at a train crossing and become late for an appointment, I feel annoyed. But ever since the East Palestine train derailment and resulting toxic fire and spill, I feel fear as well. Not because I think the train before me is going to catastrophically malfunction in that moment, but because I know the circumstances that caused that disaster still exist.

After all, National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy said the crash by Norfolk Southern was “100% preventable.” Had Norfolk invested in electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, damage from the accident would have been minimized, if not prevented. Instead, during the previous year, the company spent $10 billion on stock buybacks.

Even after the East Palestine disaster, the industry continues to cut corners on safety. Recently, union leaders have reported concerns about the railroad industry’s use of remote-control operations where the person piloting the train is not required to have an actual view of the tracks ahead. The practice has already caused death and dismemberment in Houston, Texas, Toledo, Ohio and Buffalo, N.Y.

Remote control technology is used by CSX, whose trains I frequently see on Bucks County tracks.

It’s not just the railroad industry that’s prioritizing stock buybacks over safety measures. Stock buybacks proliferated after the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by the then Republican-controlled Congress and heralded by former President Donald Trump. This accelerated an already worrisome trend of companies prioritizing buybacks over risk-preventive investments and public health.

Abbott Labs, Boeing and Emergent BioSolutions similarly spent on stock buybacks in the years prior to experiencing public health-related crises.

We need to elect leaders who are willing to stand up to this corporate greed. I commend Ashley Ehasz running for PA01, who not only refuses donations from corporate PACs, but views the prevention of disasters like East Palestine as a matter of national security. Together, with the re-election of Senator Bob Casey and President Joe Biden, we can set enforceable safety standards and stop fearing the next preventable disaster.

Martha Howlett lives in Yardley.

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