Action News Jax Investigates: CSX safety concerns

An Action News Jax investigation found that CSX is cutting more than just jobs.

On Wednesday, we aired a story about the increasing length of CSX trains that have been blocking more neighborhoods in Jacksonville.

After that story aired, an anonymous source sent us internal company bulletins showing that CSX abolished several safety rules designed to keep railroad employees safe.

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Alisa Wilkes, a personal injury attorney who represents several CSX employees, said these are safeguards that most railroad companies have in place.

She said they were in place even decades ago.

“They are rules that are still in existence on many of the railways, because they’re important safety rules,” Wilkes said.

CSX removed the three-step rule, an extra safeguard to keep train cars from moving when employees are working between or under them.

The company also banned the use of the brake stick, meaning conductors now have to tie the brakes by hand.

“The brake sticks are necessary because it prevents the crew members from having to climb up and down the cars to turn the hand brakes,” Wilkes said.

CSX has undergone a transformation during the last few months, adding new CEO Hunter Harrison and implementing a precision-railroad strategy to be more efficient.

Instead, employees said, the changes have made their jobs more dangerous.

Wilkes said morale is low for many CSX employees. She expects there will be more on-the-job injuries.

“I have had clients from other railways that have been hurt because these rules haven’t been in place at other railways,” she said. “So I do know that it’s coming.”

As CSX has cut jobs, it has consolidated trains to make them longer.

People in all parts of Jacksonville have called us to say that the trains, which are sometimes more than 2 miles long, are blocking them from leaving or getting to their homes for hours.

We told you on Wednesday that officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office have even begun citing the company for these delays.

“They have put money above safety,” Wilkes said. “The bottom line right now is not safety but dollars and money in the shareholders’ pockets.”

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CSX maintains that safety, for both employees and citizens, is a top priority for them.

In response to our questions about the safety rule changes, a CSX spokesperson issued this statement:

"The safety of CSX employees and the communities where we operate is our highest priority. CSX continuously evaluates the operating rules that guide employees in safely completing their tasks, to ensure the rules meet the railroad's changing requirements. Safety is the most important factor in evaluating changes to operating rules and we continue to apply best practices across our operation. Our goal is for every employee to return home safely at the end of their shift."