CSXT, the railroad freight company which controls roughly half of the freight moved by train on the East Coast, has some television commercials they are running trying to improve their image by spending millions of dollars on “feel good” propaganda.  The ads show a variety of people breathing like swimmers and little kids blowing bubbles and then talks about how environmentally friendly the company is because with fewer trucks on the road, a railroad is helping the environment.  It is true that using trains to transport cargo probably reduces overall emissions compared to trucks.  This basic fact is being used by CSX and other railroads, like Norfolk Southern (NS), which controls the other half of the East Coast freight lines, to convince the public how terrific their companies are.

The problem, however, is the dirty little secret that at the same time these railroad companies are bragging about helping the public breathe they are continuing to expose their own workers’ lungs to dangerous mixtures of chemicals and pollutants.  For example, train crews including conductors and engineers regularly breathe in diesel fumes which contain horrible elements which cause lung cancer.  Similarly, the railroads have for decades exposed their workers, including people in the car department and shop crafts, to asbestos, even after having long knowledge of the hazards to human health that this substance posed.  Railroad workers continue to suffer tragic, debilitating lung cancers like mesothelioma from the exposures they were subjected to in their workplace. 

CSX railroad owes its railroad employees a reasonably safe place to work, but often violates this basic principle causing employees’ breathing problems, and even causing them to die from pulmonary illnesses.  Other breathing problems that are caused by work with trains, rail cars, and ballast include silicosis and other lung disorders where sand or other harmful substances are breathed in during work.

When I watch these cute ads talking about how wonderful the railroads are, it always makes me think of the workers and their families who have been harmed and who are not “breathing easier” because of the railroad.  To put salt in the wound, the railroad companies, particularly CSX, are spending all these dollars on improving their corporate image while they often treat their workers horribly when they have legitimate FELA claims for workplace accidents, illnesses, and occupational diseases.  CSX fights tooth and nail paying big bucks to their lawyers and denying the little bit of money necessary to help their workers who have been harmed try to have a better quality of life and enough money to pay their medical bills.  Don’t believe everything you see on TV!