Freight Trains: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses freight trains and railroads, how they’ve put profits over safety, and, crucially, what shows he watched as a child that explain…everything
Freight Trains Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 10 Episode 20
Aired on December 10, 2023

Main segment: Freight railroads in the United States
Other segments: Mike Johnson

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thanks so much for joining us. It’s been a busy week. Taylor Swift was named Time’s Person of the Year, Donald Trump won another debate he didn’t attend, and the BBC gave us the single greatest opening to a news broadcast of all time.

Live from London, this is BBC ♪ ♪

Live from London, this is BBC news.

John: Excellent. Just first-rate middle finger work. I love how quickly her expression went from “playful goof” to “constipated robot.” But, we’re going to start in Congress, where this week, former House speaker Kevin McCarthy announced his plans to leave before his term was even up. You may remember, he was drummed out of his job because he was seen as too much of a moderate, and replaced by Mike Johnson. Who looks like he’s the model for “just for hobbits: touch of grey.” Johnson is now at the center of some of the most important fights in washington, from the need to avert a government shutdown, to securing critical funding for ukraine. And this week, he continued to remind everyone that — beneath his mild-mannered exterior — lurks a far-right conservative. On Tuesday, following up on his promise to make 44,000 hours of January 6th footage available to the public, he told reporters he’d made a crucial edit.

We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day, because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.

John: Yeah, Johnson announced he wanted to protect insurrectionists’ anonymity by blurring their faces, which is ridiculous: these people were a part of an armed insurrection. Also, there was merch. It wasn’t exactly a secret. And, Johnson is heavily implicated in what happened on Jan 6th — take it from Steve Bannon.

Here’s the important thing on Johnson: he is part of the trump era. He was one of the intellectual architects of pushing back on the stolen election.

John: Okay, set aside the fact he called it “the stolen election,” and that he used the term “intellectual architect” for an argument that basically amounted to “nuh-uh, I’m the president.” Even set aside his hair there, which makes him looks like the oldest t-bird in grease applying to business school. Steve Bannon is right. Johnson led the amicus brief in support of the Texas lawsuit to invalidate the election in 2020. Now, was that a good thing? Unreasonable people can disagree, but his involvement is not something Republicans want you to ask about. Just after he was nominated as speaker, there was this memorable moment.

Mr. Johnson, you helped lead the efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Do you —


Shut up!

John: I hate to be that guy, but “booooooo! Shut up!” Is not “no.” And, quick shout-out to Virginia Foxx there, repeatedly yelling “shut up” in the same tone as a drunk grandma at Thanksgiving being told she can’t sneak the dog any more turkey skin. “Shut up! Bosco loves it! He’s just hungry! Shut up!” And, if there was any hope Johnson might moderate his views now that he’s speaker, that’s gone. Last week, he sent a fundraising email expressing alarm that high schoolers increasingly schoolers increasingly identify as lgbtq, and on Tuesday, received an award from the national association of Christian lawmakers for honor and courage, and a tv evangelist who claimed “homosexuality is three times worse than smoking.” Which is absurd. The only thing a smoking habit and someone’s sexuality have in common is that they could both be strongly influenced by this picture of Joe Camel. Look at him: broad as fuck and tailored tight. He’s not just serving humps: he’s causing them. And, because there was so little vetting before Johnson became speaker, we keep discovering new unsettling facts about him, like that he apparently uses an app that alerts him if his son looks at porn online, and vice versa.

It scans all the activity on your phone, or your devices, your laptop, tablet, what have you: we do all of it. It sends a report to your accountability partner. My accountability partner right now is jack, my son. Right? He’s 17. So, he and I get a report about all the things that are on our phones, all of our devices, once a week. If anything objectionable comes up, your accountability partner gets an immediate notice. I’m proud to tell you, my son, he’s got a clean slate.

John: Okay. First, obviously, if Mike Johnson’s son is watching this, I’m really sorry. Your dad seems like a lot. And, if he’s watching this online, then I guess Mike probably is, too. Hi, Mike! You must’ve got the alert after we showed that picture of the camel. And, while everyone’s focusing on his son’s activity being sent to him, that son’s also getting a report of his dad’s internet activity, which might be worse. Not just because it’s traumatizing to learn your dad searched for “the sex stuff, lights off, shirts on,” its that having access to your dad’s mom porn searches is — “shampoo for thinning hair,” “knee clicking cancer question mark,” “is viagra christian,” that’s a dark glimpse into tomorrow no 17-year-old wants. The app he’s talking about is called “covenant eyes.” And, if you’re a company trying to stop people from constantly thinking about sex, maybe don’t make your logo look like a tantalizing hole. There are even ads for the app, and they’re spectacular.

So, what’s better than just a porn blocker? Using a porn blocker with accountability. Accountability enables a trusted friend to see how you’re using your device. Even if porn slips through the cracks, someone else knows and can help you get back on track. That’s something porn blockers can never do.

John: Hold on a second. Are we absolutely sure this is an “anti-porn” app? Because, these two have definitely fucked. “Hey! How’s it going? Want to get together?” When you know someone is masturbating could just as easily be a text that says “u up? Smiley face tongue-out emoji.” And, that’s not the only ad. I know the animated characters were weird, but wait until you see humans get involved.

Introducing covenant eyes: the app that helps you fight porn by keeping you accountable. Just download the app, choose a friend or family member to be your ally, and quit porn for good. Here’s how it works: periodically, your ally will receive a report of any online activity, and any risky activity is called out in the report. Before covenant eyes, I often found myself feeling weak in tempting situations. But now, knowing that Jeff will know if I struggle? That’s enough to give me the extra strength I need to win the fight.

John: No! Do not bring Jeff into this. He’s at work! He doesn’t need to get up to the minute notifications about you scraping your ape to “stepsibling porn, long legs.” Again, I feel like this app may be having the opposite of its intended effect. I’m just saying, if I were this guy’s wife, I’d worry less about the porn thing, and more about the Jeff thing. Not only are they sharing their porn searches with each other, they’re also going on cute muffin dates: a level of intimacy his wife can only imagine! And, just look how happy Jeff seems to make him! He’s glowing! His wife better open her eyes and realize there are three people in this marriage, and she’s the third. And look: while this is fun, a few things. First, it’s probably not ideal for national security, if a guy second in line to the presidency has that app on his phone. But also, the stuff people are now unearthing about Mike Johnson extends beyond the personal. Just last week, it emerged he’d both promoted and written the forward for “The Revivalist Manifesto,” a book by a right-wing blogger that, among other things, gives credence to unfounded conspiracy theories, including the ‘pizzagate’ hoax and disparages poor voters as “unsophisticated and susceptible to government dependency” who are “easy to manipulate with “black lives matter ‘defund the police’ pandering.” A pretty clear dog whistle. Now, a Johnson spokesperson insists he never read those passages, which he strongly disagrees with, and that he wrote the foreword as a favor, not as an endorsement of all the opinions expressed. But, Johnson himself would disagree with that, given what he said last year on his own podcast.

I obviously believe in the product, or I wouldn’t have written the foreword. So, I endorse the work. Look, I love it. I love the book. Everybody can go and get the book. I highly recommend it.

John: Yeah, turns out his endorsement was pretty full-throated. Which, incidentally, is a google image search strictly off limits to Mike and his son. And, I’m sure that’s not the last upsetting revelation we’re going to get about him. But, it’s too late. He’s already speaker. For all the fear of a second trump term, it’s worth remembering: our current speaker of the house is an anti-lgbt bigot who believes in more accountability for his son’s porn search history than he does for the people who tried to overthrow the government. But thankfully, this isn’t insurrection footage: he can’t blur his views and hope no one notices. Because — much like his son — we’re all, unfortunately, now watching him.


John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns trains. In the 1800s, the preferred method of murdering damsels. And nowadays, anti-depressants for middle-aged dads. Trains aren’t just a mode of transportation: they’re beloved children’s characters, in shows like “Thomas the Tank Engine” — except, not that one. I’m talking about the British original narrated by Ringo Starr, which is much darker. Take this episode, in which Henry the green engine gets frightened of the rain, and won’t come out of a tunnel. Everyone begs him, and then yells at him. Thomas even tries to physically push him out. And then, finally, the head of the railway steps in with a drastic solution.

“We shall take away your rails,” he said, “and leave you here for always and always and always.” They took up the old rails and built a wall in front of him so that Henry couldn’t get out of the tunnel anymore. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

John: Yeah, the British version of “Thomas” didn’t fuck around. An episode whose premise is “stop complaining about work or we’ll throw you in your forever hole” has gotta be one of the most disturbing episodes of children’s TV ever, right up there with the episode of “blue’s clues” where blue reveals herself to be the zodiac killer. C’mon, Steve: the clues were a handgun, a zodiac symbol, and an issue of the “San Francisco Chronicle” from 1969: she basically wanted to get caught! And, if you’re thinking, “surely that was the midpoint of the episode, and Henry was eventually allowed out so there’d be a happy ending with all his friends,” it wasn’t. This is how it ends.

“He wondered if he would ever be allowed to pull trains again. But, I think he deserved his punishment, don’t you? ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

John: Look: there are children’s shows, and then there are “british” children’s shows, and that’s why I am — and this is true — like this. But, we’re going to be talking about one kind of train in particular tonight: freight trains. And, let me say for the record: this show is pro-train. They’re objectively good. They’re fast, they’re loud, and they make noises like “chugga chugga choo choo,” and “dingdingdingding.” I love trains. And, freight trains are essential: we rely on them to transport about 28% of the country’s freight. And, while trucks also carry freight great distances and have some pretty hit sounds of their own — to wit — [train horn] — trains are much better for the environment, as they only account for 2% of us transportation emissions. But unfortunately, as we saw earlier this year, in East Palestine, Ohio, when freight trains go off the rails, they can cause immense damage. That crash incurred an estimated cost of at least $803 million in total damages, and 80% of residents surveyed say they’ve experienced headaches, rash, coughs, eye irritation and diarrhea, and about 40% said they suffer from ptsd. But, while that was a particularly nasty derailment, the truth is, it shouldn’t have been that surprising. Last year, there were more than 1,000 train derailments in the U.S. That means an average of three per day. And, while most occur in rail yards and aren’t major incidents, the ones that occur outside of them, can cause a huge mess.

The flaming freight train inferno outside Phoenix, Arizona, derailing on a bridge in tempe.

A runaway train derailing in the Mojave desert causing a mangled mess.

Tonight, new dash cam video shows the moment a norfolk southern train derailed in springfield, ohio.

From live Copter 3, an exclusive view at the Union Pacific train derailment. 33 Cars total, 22 derailed. A red substance was spilled, but officials have not confirmed what it is.

John: None of that is good, but the phrase “a red substance was spilled but officials have not confirmed what it is” is truly chilling. It sounds less like a legitimate news report and more like the first draft of a Stephen King novel. Train derailments happen a lot, and experts say the reason we haven’t had massive loss of life in this country as a result is more luck than anything else.

The railroads are going to keep flirting with danger, keep flirting with disaster, as long as people are getting rich as people are getting rich I don’t want to say that we dodged a bullet in East Palestine. But, the next one may be in a major urban area. It may be in a downtown Chicago. It may be in a downtown New York City.

John: It’s terrifying to think a train disaster like East Palestine could happen in New York. Partly because I live here, and partly because New Yorkers are dealing with enough dread and panic as it is. We are a perpetual terror target, we got the country’s first big wave of covid, we had a biblical plague of lanternflies last summer, and there’s an army of creepy Elmos running rampant in Times Square: we don’t have the anxiety bandwidth to also worry about a giant train full of poison exploding in the middle of the city. So, if freight trains have the power to cause that much damage, tonight, let’s talk about them. And, let’s start with the fact the freight rail industry “used” to be heavily regulated. But, in the 1970s, after the interstate highway system came along, and rail shipping lost a lot of business to trucking, there was pressure to deregulate the industry so it could compete. And, in 1980, a lot of the controls we’d had in place were removed, allowing for huge consolidation of railroad companies, to the point where — while there used to be over 100 class 1 railroads in North America, there are now just six massive, extremely powerful companies. And, much of the oversight of safety is left to the federal railroad administration, which is a fairly weak regulator. And, it’s not just me saying that: a government report found that the agency itself estimates its inspectors have the ability to inspect less than 1% of the railroad activities covered in regulation. And, as a result, railroads themselves have the primary responsibility for the safety of the railroad system. And, if history has taught us anything, that’s not a formula for good outcomes. If anything, the formula is “industry plus deregulation minus government oversight equals episode of “Last Week Tonight”.” And, guess what? Here we are! Although, I’ll give the fra some credit: it does produce some spectacular railway-safety videos to show you what not to do around train tracks.

Shoot. I think the car just died. Ugh. Seriously, this is not happening.

Why did we stop? What happened?

Are we stuck?

It’s fine. We’ll just — we’ll sit here for a minute, and I will call someone.

But, what if there’s a train coming?

Don’t worry. There’s never a train here, and I’m sure we would hear one coming from pretty far away.

John: What are you doing? It’s hard to pick a favorite reaction from the world’s calmest or dumbest mom — “I think the car just died” when your car ‘clearly’ died is an obvious hall of famer — but for my money, I’m going with the absolute blind confidence of “there’s never a train here,” a fact she cannot know and doesn’t seem to totally believe herself. Also — and this isn’t hugely important — but “I will call someone?” “Who” exactly do you think you’d call? And, how do you think that would go? “Hi, my car broke down on some train tracks, I’m in the car with my children.” “Get out of the car and off the tracks.” “I’m pretty sure there’s never a train here.” “Really? Because trains generally go where the tracks are. Put one of your children on the phone.” “Are you going to send someone to help me, officer? “Lady, I’m not even the police, this is just a number you called, get off the fucking tracks.” But, back to the fra. As I was saying, the problem is that they have limited insight into what’s actually happening on the rails. And, not every problem is as paul easy to solve as taking away this woman’s drivers license forever. As we learned in East Palestine, some trains haul hazardous materials, and the truth is, neither the fra nor anyone else knows they’re there, which is wild. It’s crazy that the FAA knows about the exact location of 5,000 planes in the sky, but the FRA can’t tell you where most trains are, or what they contain. In fact, in the New York area a while back, people got pretty alarmed when they learned that volatile crude oil was being transported, right along the Hudson River.

This is the greatest threat to the Hudson I’ve experienced in my entire career. These trains that run for almost 50 miles right next to the river carrying highly explosive crude oil in rail cars that were not designed for this, that sheer on impact.

120 Cars on some of these trains, 30,000 gallons of fuel per car, very volatile fuel. When it comes down to it, each of these train cars is like a rolling bomb.

John: It’s true, and that is not unique to the Hudson rail line. Trains that carry combustible cargo are regularly referred to by rail workers as “bomb trains.” Which is terrifying. “Bomb train” doesn’t sound like something that should ever be allowed on a railway: it sounds like the title of a Jason Statham movie that’s got 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. But, “Rolling Bomb” is a pretty Statham movie that’s got 27% on but, “Rolling Bomb” is a pretty accurate description. Just 22 train cars carrying liquefied natural gas hold the equivalent blast energy of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. And, there’ve been incidents where train cars full of crude oil have exploded in populated areas. In Canada in 2013, there was an explosion in the area of Lac-Mégantic that killed 47 people and left the town looking like this, which may not seem so alarming, until you see what that exact spot looked like before the blast. It’s hard to tell, but if you look very closely, you’ll notice that the “town” part of that town is gone. And, the notion that profits might be getting prioritized over safety is in keeping with the larger trend shaping the freight rail industry. Because, like many big companies, these giant railway firms have felt increasing pressure to squeeze margins to please investors. And, that brings us to the key trend in freight rail over the past few decades: precision scheduled railroading, or PSR. It’s the brainchild of this man: Hunter Harrison, seen here mid-colonoscopy. Until his death six years ago, Harrison worked as a CEO at four major railroads, and his philosophy of PSR has now taken over the industry. And, it’s about aggressively pursuing efficiency. To that end, railroads have closed facilities, retired locomotives and railcars and cut workers to lower costs. And, all of that is the kind of stuff that makes Wall Street idiots extremely happy. In fact, here’s one of them now!

Hunter Harrison! The new darling of Wall Street Harrison will implement a strategy that’s known as precision scheduled railroading. He’s already changed routes and schedules and the way the company sorts long trains. He actually maps them out in his own living room. I’m not kidding. This guy’s the real deal. The guy is the train whisperer.

John: Cool! You know a person is pretty awesome if they get a ringing, sound-effect-laden endorsement on an esteemed show like “Big Bucks Word Puke with Captain Money Clown.” But, it’s true: Hunter Harrison was the type of guy who mapped train routes out at home. He was also the type of guy who looked for even the smallest ways to cut costs, from tearing up unused tracks to eliminating overnight stays for train crews. He even flew around in a corporate jet with a tail number that read or59, his aspirational operating ratio. Presumably, something that made him so happy, he smiled like this. But, that efficiency for the companies has come at tremendous cost to everyone else. And, let’s start with one of the things that Myspace might be lois — things that may be less obvious, because a key component of precision scheduled railroading is running fewer, but much longer trains — and I mean “much” longer. Some trains now stretch nearly three miles long. And, those longer trains aren’t just dangerous when they’re moving: they can also be dangerous when they’re not. Trains frequently need to stop to allow other trains to pass, or to work on mechanical issues. And, tracks were built to accommodate this, with sidings alongside the main line, where trains can pull over. The problem is, those sidings were built when trains were much shorter, and nowadays, when they are multiple miles long, they can wind up stretching back onto the main track, and possibly across roads, blocking traffic. And, that’s one reason why this can happen.

For some east-end neighborhoods, this has become a way too unwelcome soundtrack. The bells start, traffic stops, this driver sleeps, this guy climbs over, this one, too, another right under. All of it without a thought to the potentially deadly consequences. The wait just becomes too long. Well, how often does this happen, Lorenzo?

Um, just about every day.

John: It’s true: in certain towns, trains can block traffic, and for hours. And, it’s not like they can quickly get out of the way by turning around. Trains are like liam payne: they really only work in one direction. Last year alone, there were more than 30,000 reports of blocked train crossings across the nation, with nearly 1,000 blocked for more than a day. And, that can mean people wind up making risky decisions to get to work — or even to school.

It’s the kind of moment that takes your breath away. A little girl in a bright red coat. Tiny arms and legs, wiggling underneath a train car that could move at any moment. It’s quiet as she dusts herself off, casually picks up her bookbag and a dropped water bottle, and carries on.

John: That’s tough to watch, but it’s kind of nice for the younger generation to have an immediate counter whenever their older relatives complain about how they used to walk to school in the snow. “Oh, was it cold, grampa? Didya get chilly? Guess I wasn’t really thinking about the weather when I was crawling under a train that could crush my tiny arms and legs’ to get to homeroom on time.” And, while that girl, thankfully, was okay, others haven’t been. Pedestrians trying to cut through trains have been disfigured, dismembered and killed, after the trains suddenly started moving. On top of which, blocked trains can also seriously delay emergency services, like fire engines or ambulances, as this oklahoma man knows all too well.

I think it’s gonna take a major tragedy for the railroad company to wake up and decide that they’re going to do something.

That was about six and a half years ago. Chad byrd complaining about these tracks near their home. And, at the time, sitting on the only crossing to get to their home.

I think the major concern is, if somebody’s injured, trying to get an ambulance to that side.

Fast forward to early September of 2020. Chad’s premonitions becoming reality. His father, Larry Gene Byrd, dying from a heart attack, and emergency vehicles were stuck behind a train on those same tracks. When emergency crews arrived, police asked the conductor if it could be moved. He said no. The lawsuit adding that he quote, “closed the locomotive’s window and would not respond to any further questions.”

John: That’s awful. And, while it’s not the most important thing, are we all allowed to just close our windows and not talk to cops? Or, is that only for train conductors? Because if so, I will buy one of those stupid little hats tomorrow. But also, I wouldn’t call his prediction a “premonition.” It was an easily foreseeable consequence of poor policy. And, that’s not a one-off: there have been multiple similar stories of people dying and houses burning down after emergency vehicles were delayed at crossings. But, longer stopped trains are just the beginning of the issues with psr. There’s also the issue of what the relentless drive for savings does to workers. Even as trains got longer, staffing has been cut to ridiculously low levels. Just watch as a union leader explains to a flabbergasted news anchor, right after East Palestine, just how low these levels had become.

Look, if you add more and more cars to these trains, you’re introducing more and more points of potential failure. And, that’s why it’s really alarming that the railroad industry actually wants to cut back the number of people operating on a train from two, as is the current standard, to one.

I’m sorry, hold on. Are you saying that as of now, a train with 150 cars and that is carrying hazardous material — vinyl chloride, whatever — as a standard, only, — only has two people operating it? Just two for that entire train?

Yeah, that’s correct. One conductor, one engineer.

And, they want to cut it down to one.


John: Right, one person. Which is absurd. Trains need an engineer to drive the train and a conductor for the rest of it. It’s not one of those jobs where we have two people do it, even though it clearly only requires one, like anchoring the news or renovating a home, or hosting the 2011 Oscars. And, people who work on these trains will tell you, every part of their job is exhausting now. For example, when there is a mechanical or other problem that causes a train to stop, the conductor may have to walk from the lead locomotive to the problem area and back again, which could mean walking 4 miles to the end and back on a 2-mile long train. Workers are being stretched so thin that they’re now working ridiculous hours and required to be on call, forcing them to pick and choose between work and their families, and even medical appointments. Until recently, when workers wanted to take a sick day at BNSF — the largest freight railroad in the US — they had to schedule them a month in advance, and only for Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. And, I don’t know how BNSF thinks illnesses work, but the flu doesn’t have a Microsoft Outlook calendar where you can look at its schedule and book your infection at a time that works for both of you. And, while BNSF changed that policy this fall, it’s still in effect at other major railroads. A former union head sums up the situation like this.

As we say, you either go to work sick and tired or you get fired. That’s really what this has come down to.

John: It’s never a good sign when conditions are so bleak, you’ve come up with a catchy little rhyme for it. Also, no one should get fired for being sick. As far as punishments go for not being able to work one day, it’s right up there with being entombed in the tunnel of punishment. And, having sick, tired workers is bad across the board, but it gets much worse when you realize some of those workers are the ones who inspect the trains to keep them safe. And, the time allotted for that keeps shrinking. One former railroader says Norfolk Southern’s inspectors used to have 5-8 minutes to check a train car’s wheels for problems, like leaky bearings or damaged components. Now, it’s often between 30 seconds and a minute. And, worse still, employees feel like they can’t speak out, as a result of a pattern of retaliation against workers who report safety violations or injuries. One whistleblower even sued his company, and had some pretty compelling evidence on his side.

Don Sanders, a former BNSF track inspector in Minnesota, secretly recorded calls with his supervisor back in 2015. In this recording, obtained by 5 investigates, you’ll hear what happened when the boss found out Sanders called the federal railroad administration.

Why in the world would we ever call FRA about anything? Unless I’m absolutely blatantly telling you to break rules, or don’t do something.

Is that against the company rules?

It’s not good.

I called him and asked him a question, Keith. I don’t understand —

I don’t want you doing that.

John: Yeah, that’s automatically suspicious. If you work at a restaurant and your boss tells you that, under no circumstances, should you ever call the health inspector, best case scenario: he is being ratatouilled. That inspector was later fired, in what a jury later agreed was retaliation for reporting too many track defects. And, another rail worker sums it all up like this

The railroad, probably 100 years ago, came up with safety first. When precision scheduled railroading came out, they gave us a list of priorities that we were to work by. Safety’s fourth.

John: Here’s the thing: that’s true! Safety is fourth! He’s not embellishing there. Hunter Harrison would frequently run down a numbered list of his guiding principles, which started with “service,” then “cost control,” then “asset utilization,” and then, and only then, “safety.” It was literally fourth on the list. And, once you get past three items on a priority list, anything after that isn’t a priority, by definition. It’s like ranking your favorite Beatles: there are three you care about, and one afterthought who narrates sadistic children’s shows about abused trains. And, at one hearing, when Harrison was running through his list and eventually got to “safety,” he wound up making a pretty striking confession.

The fourth portion of this — is which we sometimes don’t pay the appropriate attention to — is just simply don’t get anybody hurt while you’re doing this. Now, we can be very sophisticated, and we can talk about risk management and loss of control and programs and processes and so forth. I got blood all over my hands from injuries in this industry that should’ve been avoidable.

John: Wow. I gotta say, after 10 seasons of showing you executives denying their neglect, that’s almost refreshing. It’s the kind of honesty you only usually get from a guy like that after he’s been visited by the ghosts of Christmas. And look: railway companies will tell you that safety has always been important to them. And, they’ll point out that derailments have fallen by 44% since 2000. Which is true, although I’ll point out that some of that is because we’re running far fewer trains since then. Also, the rate of derailments for large railroads has been creeping up again in recent years. One railway veteran describes a major crash as just a matter of time, fearing “there’s going to be a freight car that hasn’t been inspected in 90,000 miles that comes off the track, and either explodes or leaks poisonous gas out. It’s going to take something like that, and a lot of deaths, and then all of a sudden everybody’s going to care.” You’ve now heard that exact sentiment multiple times in this piece, and he’s probably right. The solution here isn’t to turn away from rail. Again, trains are good. For one, they are still safer than trucking, and as we’ve already established, chugachugachoochoo, dingdingding, trains are fun. Now, to ensure that happens, we need to empower the fra to actually monitor trains and cargo in real time, and while we’re at it, give them the ability to limit the amount of time that trains can block intersections. And, finally, crucially, workers need a way to confidentially report safety issues to regulators without being afraid of retaliation. Until we fix all this, we might need to fundamentally change our children’s programming to show the world of trains as they currently are. ♪ ♪ [Train horn]

Once upon a time on this island, there was a train named Henry. Henry was a freight train. He pulled all kinds of important materials around. Then one day, sir top of the hat had an idea, and suddenly, Henry got longer, and longer, and longer. ♪ ♪ Henry got so long, when he rested, he started getting in people’s way, and drivers got very angry with him. “I’m late for work. What’s the fucking hold up, train,” said the driver. A little old lady shouted to him “get fucked!” A little girl crawled underneath Henry on her way to school. “That tickles,” says Henry. “I fucking hate you, train,” says the little girl. A fire engine pleaded with him to move. “I can’t move,” said Henry. “I don’t have any room.” So, they both just sat there and watched a children’s hospital burn. [Train horn] but, Henry was told he was much more efficient now, another way of saying profitable, and 9 miles long. He carried all sorts of things people needed, like medical bandages, corn, vinyl chloride, fireworks, a mysterious red substance, question mark, question mark, hand grenades, question mark, plugged in space heaters, and all sorts of zoo animals. What is liquefied natural gas? “Why am I pulling 22 cars full of it,” Henry asked. “Never you mind,” they say, “I mapped this route out at home.” “That’s a weird thing to do, and I don’t really know how to respond to it,” said Henry. “Just mind your business like a good little rolling death machine.” “Sorry, I’m a watch,” asked Henry. Then, one day, a wheel on one of Henry’s tank cars started overheating. The engineer hadn’t had a chance to inspect it in months. Henry was getting worried. “It seems my caboose is loose. I can’t drive with a loose caboose,” Henry told the driver. But, it was too late. “Oh shit,” said Henry. Henry the freight engine became Henry the bomb train. [Loud ringing noise] [siren in the distance] oh, “oh, well,” thought Henry. “At least my tankers didn’t explode” — [interrupted by explosion] meanwhile, on the other side of the island — “oh, dear,” said Thomas. The explosion obliterated a significant part of the island. Henry was so sad. Sir had blood on his hands, but he didn’t care. It wasn’t his blood. He could just wipe it off with all his new money. As for Henry, he was taken out of commission and put in a tunnel, but as trains can’t die, he just had to suffer forever and ever, but I think he deserved his punishment, don’t you?

John: That’s our show, thanks for watching, see you next week, good night!

[Cheers and applause]

♪ ♪


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