As kids, the term “Hot Wheels” brought to mind good times playing with tricked-out toy cars and letting your imagination take it from there. As railroad professionals, this term goes from warm and fuzzy childhood memories to the gut-churning stuff of nightmares.

Railroaders all know that overheated bearings and wheels are one of the fastest ways to have a bad day or to make the news for the wrong reasons. In railroad training centers for all the major railroads, we are taught about the dangers of hot wheels/journals/bearings, but the silver lining on this issue is that the people managing the railroad have already figured it all out. We were all issued a temperature indicator stick (Tempilstik) and told that this very special crayon, combined with the railroad’s foolproof system of wayside defect detectors, would be adequate for us to make it through our 30-year careers and retire without having to worry about literally running the wheels off our train.

Turns out that this well-crafted illusion of security the railroads gave us on this topic was just as true as most of the other vetted-by-legal-counsel nonsense they fed us.

As most conductors find out the first time they get an alert from a hot box detector and the dispatcher tells them to ignore it, DDs aren’t regulated. They are in place for the convenience of the carrier and as a risk diversion for their bottom line. They are part of the safety equation but not tied to any laws or federal regulations. We all know that when you hit a hot box alert on an empty grain train, you’re going for a walk to investigate, but when you hit the same detector the next day on a container train with UPS, FedEx or Amazon shipments on board, it’s “nothing to be concerned about.”

The same smoke-and-mirrors treatment surrounds the security we have always gotten from our tempilstik. The logic behind this tool has always been that if doesn’t melt, you don’t have an issue, and it’s time to haul freight. Unfortunately, there is one big problem with this premise: It came from the railroad carriers.

When the time comes to walk your train and check for a hot wheel or journal, we all go through the same steps. We do the math, figuring out what car the axle in question is on. We mark our consist paperwork up to reflect where the 20 axles ahead and behind start and end. We grab our vest, red tag, and a marker, and then we dig through our grip to pull out the all-important tempilstik. Then we get off the engine to do our jobs.

Upon getting back to the axle in question, if the wax doesn’t melt, we report our “findings” to the engineer and dispatcher. Then we move on with our day, reassured that there is nothing wrong with our train. Maybe it’s because we are too pissed in that moment thinking about the fact this misdiagnosis from the DD is going to make us late getting home or that the pizza place next to the away-from-home hotel will be closed when the time comes to mark off, but we never take the time to ask ourselves if the tool your company gave you was adequate to test that wheel’s health for starters.

In June at the NTSB’s investigative hearing in East Palestine, Ohio, one of the experts on the panel made a reference to the fact that the integrity of rail bearings begins to break down at the temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Very soon after that statement was made, the representative on the panel from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) made the statement that this statistic is the reason that all railroad crews are equipped with a tempilstik specifically designed to melt at 169 degrees Fahrenheit.

SMART-TD was represented in that hearing, and there were certified conductors/SMART-TD members in attendance who heard this comment. Within a few minutes, there were cell phone images coming into these members from their coworkers of tempilstiks that were clearly labeled as being calibrated to melt at a temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

This 31-degree discrepancy means that obviously the AAR — the lobbying arm of the railroad companies — was less than accurate about their own safety apparatus in a federal hearing in which an oath was taken to represent the truth. That is not hard for any of us to believe. However, the larger miscarriage of justice and the larger concern to the safety of our train crews and communities like East Palestine that are dotted by rail lines all over the country is this:

The AAR’s acknowledgment and acceptance of this expert’s fact that 170 degrees Fahrenheit is the absolute threshold of when the mechanics of a rail wheel and its components are at risk of breaking down is utterly damning.

If this 170-degree threshold was a known fact to the railroads, how in good conscience have they been sending workers out to investigate the bearings armed with equipment they knew wasn’t physically capable of identifying the problem unless it was already 30 degrees past the point of no return?

SMART-TD has yet to receive an answer to this question. What is important is that this practice stops. In the two months since these comments were made at the NTSB hearing, it has come to SMART’s attention that Class I carriers have begun issuing new tempilstiks certified to melt at 169 degrees.

Some of the same members who helped us in the heat of the moment during the hearing have followed up by sending us evidence that they have been issued the new tempilstiks, and SMART-TD very much appreciates that.

On its face, this seems like a victory for railroaders and the safety of the communities our trains run through. Obviously, an apparatus designed to melt at 169 degrees is significantly better for all involved than the 200-degree version that we have had at our disposal. But let’s not downplay the fact that these rail carriers have acknowledged the scientific significance of 170 degrees, and that they knew they couldn’t hide behind issuing us safety apparatuses that were higher than the level their representative spoke to on the record in a public forum. The solution they came up with still is very questionable.

By the time a train stops in response to a hot wheel detector, and the conductor goes through all steps already mentioned, then walks back to the axle in question – maybe one mile, maybe two — what are the odds that a wheel that was 170 degrees at the time it passed the detector hasn’t cooled off to being below 169 degrees by the time that tempilstik is applied to it? They aren’t very good. In no way does it make sense that the railroad would invest in equipment that is rated to measure if the wheel is one barely significant degree away from the threshold of causing potential disasters.

If these railroad companies were at all serious about avoiding mainline derailments, they would invest in tempilstiks that can identify a problematic wheel substantially before the point of critical failure. SMART-TD doesn’t have any certified material engineers on staff capable of telling us what that number would be, but we do have a lot of collective years of experience as conductors and engineers and we know that, especially in cold weather, wheels that were at 170 when they passed a detector will be far cooler than 169 by the time we walk back. This is especially true in today’s era with trains over three miles long. It may very well take over an hour before a problematic wheel can be found and tested.

SMART-TD wants all its rail members to know that we aren’t satisfied with these 169-degree tempilstiks as a permanent solution. There are better, more-reliable forms of technology available to do this job in 2023 than a high-tech crayon. But as a jumping-off point, we are happy to see that most of America’s carriers are aware that we are on to the hoax of the 200-degree version, and we will be following this situation where it leads. We as railroad professionals are safer today than we were yesterday, but not as safe as we and our communities need to be tomorrow.

What our union and our Safety Committee need now is to find out if any of our members are still working for carriers operating with the 200-degree version. Science and common sense tell us that this equipment is not sufficient to keep you or your crew out of harm’s way. If you are still operating trains armed with one of these dangerously ineffective tempilstiks, please contact SMART-TD’s Government Affairs Department by emailing

We thank you for your help in this mission to keep our brothers and sisters safe. As always, we as a union need to be vigilant in looking out for one another.

BNSF and UP have made a solid investment in lobbyists in Colorado and they’re getting their money’s worth.

In 2023, SMART-TD Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith put forward a solid railroad safety bill to the Legislature that your union wholeheartedly supported. Brother Smith has been SLD for 11 years now and knows how to do his job in the statehouse effectively for our members, getting two-person crew legislation successfully in 2019. His experience told him that the best ally he could have to carry the bill was Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno.

Colorado’s Legislature is only in session for 120 days every year. Accordingly, they have a limit on how many bills any state rep or senator can put forward. Smith getting SMART-TD’s Rail Safety Act sponsored by the Senate Majority Leader was a major win for us and for railroad safety as a whole. But then Moreno got less and less enthusiastic about pushing for our bill as the session went on.

Eventually his office told Smith that they thought our legislation was a perfect fit for a bipartisan select committee — the Transportation Legislation Review Committee (TLRC) — focused on transportation bills. Our union was glad to hear that because it is a bipartisan committee with members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate and when bills are selected for support from the committee, they have a history of being unstoppable in the following years legislative session.

It all sounded promising. But shortly after diverting the bill to this group, Sen. Moreno abruptly resigned and accepted a high-ranking position on the staff of Denver’s new mayor.

Last month, Smith and his legislative board were given their opportunity to present their argument as to why their Rail Safety Act was worthy of the TLRC’s support. At this meeting, they found out that they had about a 33 percent chance of successfully making it through a gauntlet while competing against 13 others bills to become one of five bills endorsed by the committee.

It turns out the mastermind who put our rail safety bill into this competition wasn’t Moreno. It was the BNSF lobbyist who gets $80,000/month from the railroad to pull slick maneuvers like this one and kill railroad safety projects. This discovery was the part in this “Scooby Doo”-style caper where Brother Smith pulled the mask of the bad guys, and it turned out to be the Railroads and their lobbyists.  

The bills that SMART is now competing against include easy-to-get-behind items like child-seat safety, free public-transit passes for students and even state highway repairs. What BNSF, UP and their high-paid lobbyists have created a scenario where they don’t have to actively campaign against the value of a rail safety bill. That would create bad press for them and an obvious pressure point for SMART-TD and the rest of rail labor to call them out. Rather than lobbying against our bill, all they need to do is campaign FOR all the other bills. It is almost impossible to create bad press for themselves for supporting improvements to safety in children’s car seats! They just have to prop up five of the other 13 bills and never have to do the work of opposing SMART’s message on long trains, blocked crossings and the rest of the commons-sense protections we’ve been advancing.

On the positive side, Brother Smith has informed the international office that Colorado’s RSA has made it through the first hurdle of this competition. Fourteen bills that were presented in June were narrowed down to 10 finalists on Aug. 21st. Colorado’s rail safety bill is still standing.

The remaining 10 finalists will be cut to five winners and five losers October 3. We are asking for the support of all our members in the State of Colorado to reach out to the 20 members of the TLRC. Let them know that you are a Colorado voter and taxpayer who stands on the side of railroad safety.

Please follow the link provided to our Legislative Action Center to submit a prewritten comment to your legislators. They need to know that we are aware of what is going on and that we are keeping track of who supports our mission of rail safety and who does not.

In Colorado’s House District 47 alone, there are over 300 SMART-TD members. The representative in that district, Ty Winter, is on the TLRC. Representative Winter, when asked by SMART-TD for his support for the legislation responded in writing by saying that, “A major concern MY STAKEHOLDERS’ have with this bill is that it significantly cuts the train length; reducing the train length will substantially cut profits, burdening these companies.”   

Colorado members, we absolutely need to remind Rep Winter who his “STAKEHOLDERS” are. We work, live and pay taxes in this state and in his district. WE are his stakeholders — not the carriers, not the railroad bosses like Katie Farmer and Jim Vena of the bloated owning class, and not the lobbyists who make more in a month than our new hires make in a year!

“I’ve got two conductor trainees, both in the same state working for the same carrier whose lives have been cut short. The current condition of all railroad training programs is clearly in need of scrutiny. SMART-TD is not prepared to lose more of our men and women while we sit around and wait for a palatable solution. Our trainees are dying. I appreciate the FRA putting out a list of recommended fixes to this problem in their Safety Bulletin, but suggestions aren’t going to keep my people alive. It is time for actions and time for enforcement against these unsafe practices.”

SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson

Phone: (216) 228-9400 x3300

Department Email:

August 23, 2023

On August 6th, in CSX’s Cumberland Yard, SMART-TD lost one of our newest brothers in a temporary close clearance-related accident. This accident is made all the more tragic by the fact that it was 100% preventable.

On Wednesday, August 16th, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) put out a notice entitled, “Safety Bulletin 2023-05 in regard to the accident with the subject line of “Shoving Movement Close Clearance Fatality.” Though this is a decent summary of the raw facts of what happened, it doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story of the untimely death of SMART-TD Local 600’s Travis Bradley, the newly hired conductor trainee out of CSX’s Cumberland, Maryland, crew base, which followed the death of another CSX trainee out of Maryland, Derek Scott “D.S.” Little, on July 1.

FRA’s Safety Bulletin 2023-05 emphasizes three central points. First, is that railroad companies have got to do a better job of identifying pinch points in their tracks where conductors are at risk of coming into contact with buildings, equipment, or rail cars/locomotives in adjacent tracks. Secondly, there is an obvious need for railroads to provide adequate training to the front-line employees as to how to properly and safely train newly hired employees. Finally, Safety Notice 2023-05 points out the need to establish a guideline for the level of work experience needed for a conductor to qualify as a proper instructor of trainees. In this case, the conductor working with the now-deceased trainee had less than one year experience on the railroad when he was trusted with the safety of a student conductor.

Close clearances in railroading are quite simply that. They are pinch points where the rail cars can fit without a problem but that a conductor or trainman riding the side of the car may not. In some rail customer industries, these close clearance points are clearly marked with signs that say “Close Clearance, Stop and Dismount.” Occasionally you can find one of these signs in a yard owned by the railroad itself, but for the most part, the railroads leave decisions on whether or not a close clearance is too close up to the muscle memory of the employee conducting the move.

What the FRA is saying in this bulletin, and that SMART-TD fully agrees with, is that time and effort needs to be put in on the part of these billion-dollar corporations to do studies of their rail yards to establish where these pinch points occur and make them known to employees. The railroads must properly identify and label these close clearances for the safety of all their employees, especially their newly hired conductors who are still learning the territory.

The second point made by FRA in Safety Bulletin 2023-05 is equally valid. Railroads are hiring new conductors as fast as they can get them screened and into hiring sessions. As new conductors are entering their workforce by the thousands, they do not have an infrastructure in place to teach their existing workforce how to safely and effectively act as On the Job Training (OJT) instructors for these new recruits. In a work environment as dangerous as our country’s railroads have proven to be historically, it is unthinkable that there is not a program in place to train the trainers. It is in most scenarios still the luck of the draw. If you are the trainee due to get called to work next, you are paired with the crew that is lined up to work that train. Not all railroad professionals have the natural ability or interest in teaching trainees. Many of these conductors and engineers show up to work and find out they have a trainee for the first time while they are walking to the locomotive having never been trained how to conduct themselves in this role with any semblance of keeping themselves or their trainee safe over the course of their work duties.

Finally, FRA also pointed out that there is no threshold for how much experience is required for a conductor to qualify as a trainer. With no exaggeration, there are many cases when on a conductor’s first call to work as a marked-up and qualified conductor on their own, they have a trainee assigned to them. This is neither productive nor safe for either conductor involved. The trainer has very little idea of how to keep him/herself safe and complete the tasks at hand, let alone do the same for the trainee. It is also problematic that this very green conductor has their reaction time slowed by the distraction of having a trainee shadowing them and asking questions.

SMART is calling for a threshold to be established by FRA to determine the amount of experience and level of instruction a conductor or trainmen must have before being tasked with training a new hire trainee.

SMART-TD has issued the following internal Safety Advisory to its members to begin a healthy dialogue between conductor trainees and their mentor conductors on these critical issues.


If you’re interested in speaking more about rail worker safety, and the changes SMART-TD is calling for, we’d be happy to connect you with:

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson

President Jeremy Ferguson, a member of Local 313 in Grand Rapids, Mich., was elected president of SMART’s Transportation Division in 2019.

President Ferguson, an Army veteran, started railroading in 1994 as a conductor on CSX at Grand Rapids, Mich., and was promoted to engineer in 1995. Fergusson headed the recent national rail negotiations for the union with the nation’s rail carriers.

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes

Greg Hynes is a fifth-generation railroader and was elected national legislative director in 2019.

Hynes served on the SMART Transportation Division National Safety Team that assists the National Transportation Safety Board with accident investigations, from 2007 – 2014.

In 2014, he was appointed to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), which develops new railroad regulatory standards.

Hynes was appointed the first chairperson of the UTU Rail Safety Task Force in 2009 and served in that capacity until being elected SMART Transportation Division alternate national legislative director at the Transportation Division’s 2014 convention.

SMART Transportation Division Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity

Jared Cassity, a member of Local 1377 (Russell, Ky.), was elected to the office of alternate national legislative director at the Second SMART Transportation Division Convention in August 2019 and became director of the TD National Safety Team in June 2021.

Cassity started his railroad career with CSX in September 2005 and was promoted to engineer in 2008.

In addition to his elected roles, he has been a member of the National Safety Team since 2014, where he was subsequently elected to the position of Alternate Director (East) for the NST in 2016. Likewise, he was elected by his fellow peers of state directors to serve as the directors’ representative on the CSX Safety Model Executive Board in 2013.

The SMART Transportation Division would like to thank all our members who have been filling out the safety forms when PTC doesn’t work as intended, when long trains make handheld radios useless, when signals drop out and when a DP units fail and there’s a mile of cars between the crew and the ability to fix the problem. 

All these reports from the ground are the ammo we need as a union to fight the carriers for you.

As railroaders with any time under our belts at all, we know that it is never a good idea to take the railroad you work for at face value when they try to convince you that a proposed change they are is “small” or “won’t have any effect” on you or your co-workers. That skepticism we all have toward the carriers obviously ends up being amplified when 19 railroads come together to request a “minor and insignificant” change to a federal statute on rail safety.

On June 28, that is exactly what happened when 19 railroads, including all six of the Class I freight carriers, submitted a joint request to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) asking them to change the definition of the term “initial terminal. (PDF below).

This alliance of would-be competitors rallied together around the cause of changing the official definition, saying that they only wanted to change it in terms of PTC rules. Since you must have a functioning PTC to take the main from an initial terminal, the carriers claimed they were concerned that passenger trains that change directions at the end of the line and go the opposite direction under a new train symbol are getting stranded and unable to move their passengers because of the current definition of “initial terminal” for a new train. They also put forward an example of a coal train in relay service that goes into the coal plant empty under one train symbol and leaves under a new train symbol when loaded. Their argument is that when the train symbol changes, if the PTC doesn’t reinitialize they currently aren’t permitted to take the main and head to the end user. This is because the current definition of that coal plant as the initial terminal of the loaded train under the new symbol means that it was not an en route failure for the second train.

This explanation was difficult to believe for us here at SMART-TD. Relay service on coal trains isn’t where these Fortune 500 companies are making their fortunes, and there is no reason to believe that 19 freight railroads are reaching out because they are concerned for the well-being of Amtrak and the convenience of their ridership.

When this joint request was published, SMART-TD’s National Legislative Department went to work on getting to the bottom of what these companies were trying to accomplish with this seemingly harmless changing of the meaning of a term. What we figured out was just as predictably deceptive as you would expect.

The first way that using their newly minted definition of the initial terminal would benefit them affects the way one railroad interchanges with another company. If the PTC doesn’t load for the new leg of the trip, under the proposed new definition, this second railroad could take off without having PTC available, and they could treat it as an en route failure even though that is a new train on their lines.

The second way it would benefit the company is that under the current PTC rules if a train is rerouted, the PTC information must be updated so the miles on the alternative route are run with PTC. This change in verbiage would have changed that, too. These companies can’t be slowed down by waiting for their own safety-related software to be updated. This proposed change would have been a permission slip for them to send crews on alternate routes into territory they, by definition, are less familiar with, without the safety redundancy of PTC.

In a public comment sent to the FRA on Aug. 8, 2023, by Greg Hynes, SMART-TD’s National Legislative Director, SMART pointed out that the reasons and examples the railroads gave FRA as to why they wanted this change of definition were nonsense. NLD Hynes demonstrated the real incentive for the railroad was the ability to run thousands of rail miles without having to be hampered by federal regulations meant to safeguard our members and the communities we run through.

Hynes went on to describe that, in his career of fighting against railroad companies’ regulatory overreaches, he saw this request as being the first chess move the railroads were using to set up the board for a more-aggressive offensive maneuver on their next turn. He told the FRA that by changing the definition of the initial terminal now only in the context of PTC, it was logical that they would come back to the government later and ask it to change the definition of the initial terminal when it comes to the topic of Class I brake tests. He described in detail that this proposal from the railroads to “make the verbiage consistent and avoid confusion” would have devastating effects on the safety of our nation’s rails.

Last week, on Aug. 14, the FRA made its decision. FRA in its dedication to public safety, and in reference to SMART-TD’s concerns and those of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, officially denied the 19 railroads’ request to change the definition of “initial terminal.” (PDF below).

On paper, this victory looks to be merely the maintaining of the status quo, but it cannot be overstated how big of a victory this was for rail labor and common sense. It is a demonstration that SMART-TD’s National Legislative Office of three people outgunned the legal and lobbying wings of 19 combined railroads. The railroads had a massive manpower advantage, and the majority of their people have law degrees. But what they don’t have is railroad experience and the power of 100,000 men and women behind their words.

We can’t thank you enough for your support.

Please keep these reports coming. And, rest assured, your union will remain in the trenches fighting these carriers every step of the way.

Local 600 in Cumberland, Md., is mourning the loss of CSX conductor trainee Travis Bradley alongside his family and friends.

Brother Travis Bradley, a conductor trainee out of Local 600 in Cumberland, Md., died after an at-work accident on Aug. 7

Shortly after midnight August 7, Brother Bradley, 40, died from injuries he received Aug. 6 while working in an incident involving a close clearance in a yard track. Brother Bradley referred to his new career in railroading as his dream job. Unfortunately, his career and life were both tragically cut short in Cumberland Yard.

Bradley came to the railroad in hopes of providing for his wife and three children. Like most of us, he was willing to sacrifice holidays, sleep and any aspect of a normal lifestyle to bring his family the security of railroad worker wages, healthcare and retirement.

As a trainee, Brother Bradley’s family is not protected by the same level of benefits that non-probationary employees are. The ugly truth is that his wife and children will not be taken care of by the railroad in the way that Travis had set out.

We all began as trainees, and even if it was 30 years ago, many of us remember having a close call while learning how to railroad safely. Brother Bradley didn’t survive that moment in his young career.

SMART-TD is asking all those who can identify with Brother Bradley and are able to do so, to please consider following this link to the GoFundMe campaign established to benefit Bradley’s wife, Nichole, and their three young daughters.

SMART-TD extends its condolences to the Bradley family and all our members in Local 600 and thanks Local 600’s Local Chairperson Danny Strang for establishing the GoFundMe campaign to benefit Brother Bradley’s family. Your leadership and willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty for the men and women of your crew base is appreciated.

Read Brother Bradley’s obituary

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ Transportation Division (SMART-TD) is standing with its fellow rail labor union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED), in its lawsuit against BNSF Railway.

The lawsuit alleges that BNSF has violated the Railway Labor Act by reducing its Maintenance of Way workforce without proper notice and consultation with the unions.

“We are committed to fighting alongside our brothers and sisters at BMWED to protect the safety and security of our rail system,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson. “BNSF’s reckless decision to cut jobs without regard for the consequences is a threat to the safety of everyone who relies on the railways. We will not stand by while BNSF puts lives at risk.”

Ferguson and BMWED President Tony Cardwell have a long history of working together to protect the interests of rail workers. Last year, they fought side by side in the national contract negotiations, and they continue to collaborate on a number of issues since then.

The lawsuit is currently pending in federal court. BMWED is seeking an injunction to prevent BNSF from further reducing its Maintenance of Way workforce, as well as damages for the harm that has already been caused.

Five General Committees ratify tentative agreement securing up to eight sick days

The oldest railroad in the nation has finally realized that people get sick.

About 6,000 SMART Transportation Division conductors and trainmen have secured paid sick leave from Union Pacific after voting to ratify a tentative agreement.

The agreement was reached July 10 by Alt. Vice President and General Chairperson Scott Chelette (GO-927); Alt. Vice President and General Chairperson Gary Crest (GO-887); General Chairperson Joey Cornelius (GO-569); General Chairperson Roy Davis (GO-577) and General Chairperson Luke Edington (GO-953).

“This is a great day for our members as this agreement is all inclusive to all members and can be used for not only themselves but also in their families’ illnesses as well,” said Chelette, whose GO-927 unanimously ratified the agreement. “The ability to bank unused days for future use in case they are needed or having a cash out option is a huge benefit.”

“This agreement is not only great for our members it’s great for our industry. This is the start of us working on real quality of life issues for our membership,” Crest said. “We look forward to delivering more victories like this in the coming years.” 

“This is a great agreement,” said GC Davis, whose GO-577 also ratified it unanimously.

The agreement, ratified by more than 96% of members in favor, includes:

  • Five (5) paid sick days to all employees actively working in road and yard service, including Hostler/Hostler Helpers and Firemen in Training. Paid sick days can be taken at any time and cannot be denied.
  • In lieu of the restricted medical days provided to employees in unassigned service only in Side Letter #3 of Public Law No. 117-216, all employees, regardless of class of service that is represented by SMART TD, will have the ability to convert three (3) single vacation days to paid sick days to be taken on demand, any day of the week that cannot be denied.
  • The Additional Day provided in Public Law No. 117-216 can now be taken on demand, any day of the week, without restriction unless it falls on the following holidays: July 4th, Thanksgiving, Day After Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  • Creates a process for banking of up to sixty (60) days of any unused Personal Leave Days, Paid Sick Days, and the Additional Day. This includes the ability to cash out or utilize any or all banked days.

This letter was co-signed by Greg Regan, the president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, of which the SMART Transportation Division and SMART Mechanical Divisions are members.

July 31, 2023

The Honorable Patty Murray
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington DC 20510

The Honorable Susan Collins
Vice Chair
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington DC 20510

The Honorable Kay Granger
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington DC 20510

The Honorable Rosa DeLauro
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington DC 20510

Dear Chair Murray, Vice Chair Collins, Chairwoman Granger, and Ranking Member DeLauro:

On behalf of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), and the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), we write to express our strong opposition to the limitation on administrative funding for the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) included in the fiscal year (FY) 2024 House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill and to urge you to adopt the limitation included in the FY 24 Senate Labor-HHS bill.

As passed by the House Labor-HHS Subcommittee on July 14, 2023, the House FY 24 bill would cap RRB’s administrative funding at $103 million, a $25 million decrease from FY 23 funding, which is maintained in the Senate FY 24 bill, and over $35 million below the President’s FY 24 Budget Request. This limitation would severely impact the ability of the RRB to process retirements and sickness benefits for railroad employees and retirees living in every state and every congressional district. At this funding level, RRB would be forced to cut approximately 23 percent of its current workforce, dramatically slowing down processing times and service for beneficiaries. This funding limitation comes at a time when RRB is in dire need of more employees and has consistently asked Congress to increase the administrative funding limitation to better meet the needs of the over 530,000 beneficiaries currently served by RRB.

This new limitation is especially troubling because, though it was included under the guise of lowering federal spending, it does not cut spending at all. The overwhelming majority of funding for the RRB, including the administrative funding capped by this bill, comes from payroll taxes paid by railroad employers and railroad employees. No other taxpayers or businesses pay into the fund, and the RRB does not receive any funding from the U.S. Treasury. Therefore, caps on RRB spending do not reduce the deficit or slow federal spending. Further, this limitation on funding would not reduce the amount of money paid into the fund by railroads or railroad workers. All this limitation will do is force RRB to cut staff and reduce service to hard-working railroad employees and retirees.

We urge you to remove this draconian limit on RRB’s administrative funding and support the limitation in the Senate bill, which maintains FY 23 funding levels and allows the agency to maintain its current employment levels and continue providing strong service to the over 530,000 beneficiaries currently served by the employees as well as 200,000 active railroad employees relying on these benefits in the future.


Ian Jefferies
President and CEO
Association of American Railroads

Chuck Baker
American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association

Greg Regan
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

PDF Version

Vice President John D. “J.D.” Whitaker III, whose vital and key roles in negotiating numerous contracts on the general committee and national levels that improved the lives of many SMART-TD rail members, passed away July 27, 2023, of cancer.

VP Whitaker was 50 years old.

“It is a tremendous loss for John’s family — his wife, Melissa, and their three sons — to his friends and to the SMART Transportation Division,” TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “Brother John was a trusted and tireless leader for the membership and had an absolute passion about what he did for everyone we represent. Our hearts are broken and there is a great loss caused by his untimely passing. Yet the legacy he leaves behind is one of strength, bravery and accomplishment. The union would not be what it is today without his contributions.”

SMART Transportation Division Vice President John D. “J.D.” Whitaker III addresses the Second SMART General Convention at the Mirage in Las Vegas Nevada in 2019. VP Whitaker passed away on July 27 after a battle with cancer.

In his position as TD vice president, Brother Whitaker engaged in the National Rail Contract negotiations that began in November 2019, in addition to all his assignments for many of the TD general committees. He also proudly fulfilled his duties as a General Vice-President on the SMART General Executive Council (GEC).

“His absence leaves a profound void, for he dedicated his entire life to representing and advocating for the members he served,” SMART General President Michael Coleman said. “Throughout his career, he achieved remarkable success, always putting the well-being of those he represented above all else. Our hearts and thoughts are with his family as they navigate through this challenging period of loss.”

Brother Whitaker was born Nov. 16, 1972, and began his railroad career in 1997 with CSX Transportation as a conductor. He was promoted to engineer in 2002. A member of Local 1106 in Rocky Mount, N.C., he was elected to the position of local chairperson for engineers in 2002.

After gaining experience as local chairperson, he ran for vice general chairperson for CSX General Committee of Adjustment GO-851 and was elected effective January 2006. Whitaker maintained that position through March 2011, at which time he was elected general chairperson for GO-851 representing approximately 2,000 members on the former Seaboard Coast Line, CSX Transportation, Florida East Coast Railway, Winston-Salem Southbound Railway, High Point Thomasville & Benton Railroad, Georgia Railroad, South Carolina Public Railway Commission and South Carolina Central Railroad, covering six states.

In October 2013, Whitaker was appointed alternate to the TD executive board and was elected by delegates for another term in 2014. In December of that year, he was elevated to the position of Transportation Division alternate vice president. Whitaker was elected to the board of the SMART TD Association of General Chairpersons (Dist. 1) in 2016. He was then elevated to the position of vice president in April 2019, upon the retirement of Dave Wier and was elected by acclamation to that position at the Second Transportation Division Convention in August 2019.

Vice President Whitaker is survived by his wife, Melissa, and their three sons, Russel, Chase and Nick (Nicholas).

A celebration of VP Whitaker’s life is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, at Plantation Oaks Farms, 45460 Hodges Road, Callahan, FL 321011.

View Brother Whitaker’s obituary.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (July 31, 2023) – CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) announced they are partnering to extend CSX’s conductor training program to five weeks from the previous four-week regimen to provide new hires with additional hands-on experience prior to beginning on-the-job training (OJT).

The extra week of training at the CSX Training Center in Atlanta will focus on performing tasks in a field setting to increase trainees’ exposure to railcar switching scenarios, radio communication, securement of equipment, brake tests and other fundamentals of the conductor’s role. Hands-on application of these skills begins in the third week of training, and the additional week will reinforce trainees’ comfort level by providing multiple opportunities to perform the tasks while operating on first and second shifts.

“Training is the foundation of the CSX safety culture, and investing in employees is the most fundamental way we can prepare our train crew members for a safe, successful career on the railroad,” said Jamie Boychuk, executive vice president of Operations. “The additional week of new-hire training in Atlanta will help conductors strengthen their skills in preparation for their on-the-job training assignment.”

CSX developed the extended training program in consultation with the SMART-TD, which represents its train crew employees.

“We’re proud to continue working with CSX to improve the training curriculum for new hire trainmen, in the same spirit as we’ve worked together to increase compensation and expand our mentoring partnerships for trainees,” said Jeremy Ferguson, President of SMART-TD. “More training directly translates to better safety for our members and demonstrates our shared commitment to the CSX safety culture.”

After completing their five weeks at the Atlanta Training Center, new conductors begin up to five months of OJT at their hiring location, where they learn the physical characteristics and job assignments of their designated territory.

About CSX

CSX, based in Jacksonville, Florida, is a premier transportation company. It provides rail, intermodal and rail-to-truck transload services and solutions to customers across a broad array of markets, including energy, industrial, construction, agricultural, and consumer products. For nearly 200 years, CSX has played a critical role in the nation’s economic expansion and industrial development. Its network connects every major metropolitan area in the eastern United States, where nearly two-thirds of the nation’s population resides. It also links more than 240 short-line railroads and more than 70 ocean, river and lake ports with major population centers and farming towns alike.


SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members who work in a variety of different crafts in the transportation industry. These crafts include employees on every Class I railroad, Amtrak, many shortline railroads, bus and mass transit employees and airport personnel. More information about the union is available at