Archive for the ‘Press release’ Category

SMART Condemns January 6 Assault on American Democracy

We have just witnessed a sad day in American history.  Leave no doubt, these violent, anti-democratic actions were sown by the incitement of the current president and his elected apologists, who have misled their supporters for far too long.

SMART, along with our sisters and brothers across the labor movement, rejects any threat to our nation’s peaceful transfer of power, and stands ready to defend our nation’s democratic institutions.

 

Amtrak Workers’ Rallies Call on Congress to Preserve Jobs, Fund Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 28, 2020) — Unionized Amtrak workers, led by members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and Transportation Communications International Union (TCU), will rally Sept. 30 in four major U.S. cities to urge members of Congress to provide emergency funding on the day prior to planned cuts by the nation’s major passenger rail carrier to its service and workforce.

On Sept. 9, Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn appeared before a U.S. House committee saying that the carrier needs approximately $5 billion in emergency funding to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If no additional funding is provided by the federal government, the carrier has announced impending cuts, effective Oct. 1, of approximately 2,000 unionized employees and a planned reduction of service that would hit long-distance and state-run routes that serve rural areas especially hard.

Members of the SMART-TD, BLET and TCU as well as members of other labor unions whose jobs are jeopardized by these cuts will demonstrate in the nation’s capital, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“We recognize that the coronavirus has profoundly affected the national rail network with a major reduction in ridership, which is especially unfortunate when considering that Amtrak had set passenger service records in recent years,” said union presidents Jeremy Ferguson (SMART-TD), Dennis Pierce (BLET) and Arthur Maratea (TCU). “However, placing the burden of the pandemic’s effects on all of these essential workers who faithfully kept the service running during this ongoing national emergency is absolutely wrong. Job cuts are not the cure.”

The schedule for the four Fight for Service events Sept. 30 is as follows:
Washington D.C.: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. (Eastern), in front of the U.S. Capitol Building’s east side.
New York City: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. (Eastern), in front of Penn Station at Eighth Avenue (Farley Post Office).
Chicago, Ill.: 10 a.m. – noon (Central), in front of Union Station on South Canal Street.
Los Angeles, Calif.: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. (Pacific) in front of Union Station.

SMART-TD, BLET and TCU members in the Washington D.C., New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles areas are encouraged to participate in this showing of solidarity. The events will be socially distanced and participants will be wearing masks.

“Congress has the ability to make a difference by providing the emergency funding that Amtrak needs,” the presidents said. “Unionized workers and their supporters are uniting to call attention to that simple fact.”

According to Amtrak internal documents, 1,950 unionized workers are targeted by the cuts. Of those, 1,225 are members of the SMART-TD, BLET or the TCU.

A PDF with details about the rallies is available.

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The Transportation Communications International Union (TCU/IAM) represents approximately 46,000 members who work in every state in the U.S., mostly employed in the railroad industry. In 2012, TCU merged with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), who represent 600,000 active and retired members in North America.

Union leadership: Rail bosses are tightening the screws on workers, representatives

CLEVELAND, Ohio, (August 21, 2020) — As freight rail traffic levels rebound strongly from the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, railroad management has unleashed an unprecedented barrage of measures to manipulate recalls from furloughs, make already draconian attendance policies even more punitive and interfere with union representatives who fight to protect their members from this abuse.

SMART Transportation Division and the BLET’s National Division both have received multiple reports from their General Committees of Adjustment on various Class I railroads indicating two specific types of recall-related conduct that could jeopardize tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits. These benefits are paid pursuant to the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA), which is administered by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

At least one carrier is disputing unemployment claims for all days later than the date of a recall notice, regardless of when the furloughed worker actually received the notice and irrespective of collective bargaining agreement provisions that provide the employee with a certain number of days within which to report. These provisions allow furloughed railroad workers to make necessary arrangements to settle personal and family obligations, such as child care, to accommodate a return to work without being penalized economically for the position in which the carrier’s furlough originally placed them.

The GCAs have also reported that one or more carriers have recalled furloughed employees who, after reporting for work, are then furloughed for a second time. In at least one instance, an employee quit other employment he had found, only to be kicked to the street again by the railroad without ever having performed service. And, for workers receiving RUIA benefits, a one-week waiting period during which no benefits are paid could be triggered, depending upon the timing and duration of this second furlough.

The leaders of both unions expressed outrage over these actions.

“Just when one thinks the carriers can’t possibly stoop any lower, they try to game the RUIA system to their benefit,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce. “Since RUIA tax rates are experience-based, maybe the carriers are looking to minimize next year’s hit. But cutting their losses on the backs of union members and their families in this fashion is reprehensible.”

In an August 14 letter, SMART-TD and BLET General Chairpersons jointly blasted BNSF management for changes to that Carrier’s attendance policy. According to the letter, the changes would be implemented via a blitz of threatening letters to workers who took off from work on what are now, but were not then, viewed by the Carrier as being “high impact” days. Most of these are family-friendly days, including national holidays, and letters apparently are being sent even in cases where permission to take the time off had been granted to workers.

“The Carrier continues to remain inflexible when it comes to respecting workers’ attempts to have lives outside of work,” the union presidents said. “If a worker happens to have chosen to engage in a family event, to enjoy a holiday or some sort of emergency cropped up on one of these unknown-until-now ‘high-impact’ days, he or she can now expect to receive a threatening letter and have a watchful eye just waiting to issue punishment if they dare have off time that coincides with another of these days.”

The unions’ General Chairpersons also pointed out that thousands of BNSF operating employees remain furloughed, and that this reserve is more than sufficient to meet any service needs on “high impact” days while, at the same time, allowing reasonable time off from work. Further, they report that the Carrier continues to do nothing to address long-standing problems with poor lineups, denial of reasonable vacation and personal leave requests, excessive held away-from-home terminal times during holidays, excessive on-duty times and denied holiday pay claims. As a reminder, even in the midst of a pandemic-stricken U.S. economy, BNSF reported second-quarter earnings of more than $1.13 BILLION in net earnings and a 61.1% operating ratio thanks to the essential work done by employees who are being targeted for discipline and punishment by this policy.

BNSF also is attempting to pressure working local union representatives to not take time off from work to represent their members. In some cases, local representatives are invited to conferences with the railroad, then are denied the time off work to attend the conference, forcing them to mark off for union business. When they do so, the railroad warns that their use of union business mark-offs is excessive and they, too, may fall subject to that Carrier’s intensified attendance policy.

“Shame on BNSF for expanding their anti-worker attendance policy in a way that is plainly anti-family,” Ferguson and Pierce said. “In no event will our union representatives be intimidated into not performing the duties of their offices. Our members should keep in mind that Election Day in November will determine whether these examples of unconscionable corporate misbehavior will continue to receive the approval of federal government officials at the highest levels.”

The joint letter from the SMART Transportation Division and BLET General Chairpersons to BNSF objecting to that Carrier’s attendance policy changes is available here.

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

RRB begins payment on extended unemployment benefits

From the RRB’s Public Affairs office:

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, recently signed into law by President Trump, authorized extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for railroad workers sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic. After making necessary programming changes to agency systems, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) began processing and paying extended benefits on May 11.

The CARES Act authorized payment of extended UI benefits to rail workers who received UI benefits from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. Under the legislation, railroad workers with less than 10 years of service may be eligible for up to 65 days of extended benefits within 7 consecutive 2-week registration periods. Workers with 10 or more years of railroad service, who were previously eligible for up to 65 days in extended benefits, may now receive benefits for up to 130 days within 13 consecutive 2-week registration periods. No extended benefit period under this provision can begin after December 31, 2020.

The RRB will identify any employees who exhausted their regular UI benefits during the benefit year that began July 1, 2019, and send them a letter and claim forms to receive the extended benefits. The agency will also load appropriate claim forms to online accounts so that individuals can file them online through myRRB on the agency website, RRB.gov.

Since RRB offices are currently closed to the public due to the pandemic, railroad employees are encouraged to file for UI benefits by setting up an online myRRB account if they have not already done so.

The extended benefits are being paid from a previous appropriation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, of which $140 million remains. As a result, these benefits will not be charged to rail employers in calculating their contribution rates to fund the railroad unemployment system. Extended benefits will be payable until a claimant’s eligibility is exhausted or the appropriation is depleted, whichever comes first.

While the extended benefits will not be subject to reduction due to budget sequestration, the RRB does remind recipients that the payments are subject to income taxation and garnishment for tax or other legally established debts.

The team responsible for programming adjustments continues to work diligently to update systems to allow for the payment of the additional CARES Act benefits. When that processing is completed, payment will be made to cover retroactive periods. Meanwhile, employees who met eligibility requirements for UI at the beginning of the benefit year but had exhausted those benefits will now be able to file for and again receive UI benefits.

New Guaranteed Approval Offering for SMART-TD Long-Term Voluntary Disability Plan (VDP)

All previously declined members and future enrolled members of the SMART-TD Long-Term Voluntary Disability Plan (VDP) now have access to up to $1,000 of guaranteed approved coverage.

North Olmsted, Ohio (April 16, 2020) — In May 2019, the SMART Transportation Division rolled out a new Voluntary Disability Plan (VDP) to all dues-paying members living in the United States and working at least 20 hours per week. This plan, underwritten by Amalgamated Life Insurance Company, was subject to simplified medical underwriting, which led to some members not receiving medical qualification for this important coverage.

SMART leadership has been in negotiations with Amalgamated to resolve this issue, and the company has agreed to provide $1,000 of guaranteed approved coverage to all future enrollees, including those who previously had been medically denied coverage.

This enhancement to the SMART TD Long-Term Disability Plan (VDP) applies to all members who had applied previously and were denied coverage and to all future new enrolled members.

The following conditions will be made effective on Aug. 1, 2020:

  • Those enrolled members must currently be actively at work
  • Members who previously enrolled and were declined may find themselves in a new age group based on the new effective date of coverage. This will impact their premiums.

The $1,000 guaranteed approved benefit plan will have the following design:

  • $1,000/month maximum benefit
  • 180-day elimination period
  • 2-year maximum benefit duration
  • 12/12 pre-existing limitation (pre-existing condition clock will start Aug. 1, 2020)

For more information about the enhanced VDP plan or to enroll, visit www.smart-vltd.com or call the SMART-TD VDP Enrollment Center at 224-770-5328.

About SMART TD: The SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts in the transportation industry. With offices in North Olmsted, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., SMART TD is the largest railroad operating union in North America.

For more information regarding this press release, please contact:
Carl Galdine
224-770-5328
carl@smart-vltd.com

SMART-TD, BLET petition FRA for emergency protocols regarding COVID-19

CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 20) — The SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) today filed a joint request urging the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to issue an Emergency Order (EO) to address employee safety conditions in response to the national COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.

“The employees we represent are essential to the health, safety, and security of the nation. Therefore, it is necessary that the railroads take immediate and appropriate precautions to mitigate against the spread of the virus amongst their workforces, to minimize the exposure of their employees to the virus during the performance of their duties, and that Class I railroads maintain sufficient staffing levels to compensate for reduced headcounts caused by sick employees and family members, as well as to seamlessly handle predicted increases in volume once the virus begins to subside,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce wrote in their petition.

Although emergency relief procedures were activated by FRA Administrator Ron Batory on March 13, many rail carriers have been slow to adopt, or in some cases have neglected to adopt, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. An action plan to help address the potential spread of the coronavirus among rail workers has not been issued by FRA and reports that Class I employees, both administrative and over-the-road personnel, have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 illnesses have been received.

The emergency request from the unions follows a letter their presidents sent on March 6 that requested, among other emergency remedial measures, thorough sanitation efforts in railroad facilities and on locomotives to prevent the infection of workers.

The unions’ request includes that railroads adhere to CDC guidelines in the following areas:

• Locomotive sanitation
• Sanitation of common areas used by employees
• Monitoring of employee temperatures
• Sanitation of crew transportation vehicles

The unions also seek that accommodations for meals, including long waits for food, be made in the documentation of hours of service reports for away-from-terminal personnel, including an additional 30 minutes to report in response to a call to work.

Procedures on how to handle employees who develop symptoms of the coronavirus requested by the unions reflect CDC guidelines, which include isolation, personal protective equipment, transport, and self-quarantine.

Finally, the presidents wrote, 25% of furloughed rail personnel should immediately be recalled to service to deal with anticipated shortages and staffing needs, in accordance with President Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act.

“To standardize and define the best protocols across the industry for the mitigation of the spread of the virus and the protection of employees, these safety precautions need to be immediately ordered by FRA,” Presidents Ferguson and Pierce stated.

Read the petition (PDF)

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Union Pacific reports full PTC implementation on its trackage

Class I carrier Union Pacific announced Monday that it has completed implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) on all federally mandated freight and passenger routes requiring the collision avoidance technology.

The carrier still must achieve full interoperability, that is, its PTC system must be able to successfully interact with those systems used by other carriers.

The carrier reports that 16 of 25 railroads it hosts are compliant, encompassing 85% of Union Pacific’s interoperable PTC train miles, and says that full interoperability in conjunction with the other carriers is expected by mid-2020.

PTC is designed to prevent:

  • Train-to-train collisions;
  • Derailments caused by excessive speed;
  • Accidents that can occur if trains are routed down the incorrect track;
  • Unauthorized train movements on tracks undergoing maintenance

Regardless of implementation status, if a SMART Transportation Division member experiences an event in which PTC or other rail technology hinders the ability to perform his or her duties, he or she is encouraged to complete a Railroad Technology Event Report and submit it to SMART-TD.

Read the Union Pacific release.

Rail union chiefs announce formation of Coordinated Bargaining Coalition

CLEVELAND, Ohio and WASHINGTON, D.C., (November 1, 2019) — Top leaders of 10 rail unions announced today that their organizations will be participating in coordinated bargaining in the round of national negotiations that began on Nov. 1, 2019. The unions comprising the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition are:

  • American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA)
  • Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen / Teamsters Rail Conference (BLET)
  • Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS)
  • International Association of Machinists (IAM)
  • International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB)
  • National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU (NCFO)
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
  • Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)
  • Transportation Communications Union / IAM (TCU)
  • Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART TD)
  • The following statement was jointly issued by ATDA President Leo McCann, BLET National President Dennis Pierce, BRS President Jerry Boles, IAM General Vice President – Transportation Sito Pantoja, IBB Director of Railroad Lodge Services John Mansker, IBEW Railroad Department Director Bill Bohne, NCFO President John Thacker, SMART TD President Jeremy Ferguson, TWU Railroad Division Director John Feltz, and TCU National President Bob Scardelletti:

    “We are pleased to announce the creation of the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition as we are on the threshold of the most critical round of national bargaining in a generation. Our Coalition is founded on two key values that we all share. One is that we understand the importance of each Union’s autonomy to pursue membership-specific goals within a framework of broad solidarity to defend and improve the wages, benefits and working conditions of our members. The other is that we will spare no effort to defeat the attack by the railroads on the very foundation of our members’ economic security.”

    Jointly, the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition unions represent more than 105,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements, and comprise over 80% of the workforce who will be impacted by this round of negotiations.

New Jersey Transit expanding its de-escalation training for rail and bus workers

New Jersey Transit (NJT) is expanding its de-escalation training for front-line employees to include curriculum from Rutgers’ National Transit Institute (NTI), the carrier said in a press release on Monday.

NTI presented a “Train the Trainers” program on conflict de-escalation techniques for bus and rail operations and New Jersey Transit police recently.

“These highly effective techniques will be incorporated into existing internal NJT de-escalation training programs to create a set of best practices for use in real-world situations,” NJT said in its release.

“This new de-escalation training demonstrates our commitment to our front-line employees and to their safety,” said NJT President & CEO Kevin Corbett.

“One of our main missions as a police department is promoting the safety of our customers and crews, and this expansion of our de-escalation training fits squarely in that space,” said NJT Police Chief Christopher Trucillo. “It is always preferable to have situations managed before it rises to the level of police involvement.”

“The best way to help employees at risk of on-the-job assaults is to help them prevent the assault in the first place,” said NJT Employee Court Advocate Michael Rubin. “With this expanded training program our bus operators, conductors, police, and other customer-facing employees will have additional tools at hand to de-escalate situations and protect themselves and their customers from possible assaults.”

All of NJT’s employees who work with the public on buses, trains or as police officers receive training on how to manage difficult situations to minimize the possibility of violence. With the assistance of NTI, the trainings will be more robust and help to reduce assaults on bus operators, conductors, police, and other personnel.

“SMART TD Local 60 applauds N.J. Transit’s efforts in protecting our front-line employees from assaults. NTI’s de-escalation training is a great step in the right direction,” said Jerome C. Johnson, president and alternate delegate of the local and general chairperson of GO-610 (New Jersey Transit). “We look forward to collaborating further with N.J. Transit to reduce assaults and provide training for our brothers and sisters in conflict avoidance.”

NJT is the nation’s largest statewide public transportation system providing more than 925,000 weekday trips on 251 bus routes, three light rail lines, 12 commuter rail lines, and through Access Link paratransit service. It is the third largest transit system in the country with 166 rail stations, 62 light rail stations, and more than 18,000 bus stops linking major points in New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia.

TD ready to respond as carriers once again attack crew consist

NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio (October 3, 2019) — Today, the nation’s Class I rail carriers, along with a few other railroads, filed suit in federal district court in the Northern District of Texas in an attempt to undermine our collective bargaining agreements as well as the bargaining process under the Railway Labor Act.

The suit, filed just ahead of the beginning of the next round of national handling scheduled to begin with the Section 6 notice filing November 1, asserts that the carriers’ position that “the existing moratoriums do not bar their crew-consist-related proposals” is a minor dispute subject to arbitration.

As detailed in their complaint, this is not the first time that the rail carriers have attempted an attack on crew consist. SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson, noting the carriers’ history of unsuccessful attacks on crew consist, stated, “this latest attempt is nothing new, and it will once again be met with a vigorous defense.”

The suit, denoted as BNSF Railway et al, v, Internat’l Assn. of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers—Transportation Division, has not yet been served on the SMART Transportation Division.

This article will be updated.

Supreme Court: Part of lost wages award is taxable under Railroad Retirement Act

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court found that the portion of a damages award attributable to lost wages for a workplace injury is considered to be taxable compensation under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA). The decision in BNSF Railway Co. v. Loos (No. 17-1042) was released March 4.

Michael Loos pursued a claim against his then-employer, BNSF, for a workplace injury under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a law allowing railroad workers to file suit against their employers for on-the-job injuries. Loos was awarded damages of $126,212, of which $30,000 was attributable to lost wages from BNSF. BNSF indicated that it would withhold railroad retirement taxes from the lost wages portion of the award. Loos disagreed with this theory of withholding, arguing that, consistent with the RRTA’s definition of compensation, the payment must be “for services rendered” in order to be taxable and instead of compensation for services rendered the payment at issue compensated for an injury.

The issue worked its way from the lower courts to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments took place on November 6, 2018, and the court reached its decision on a 7-2 vote. In reversing the decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the Supreme Court held that the RRTA’s definition of compensation includes not simply pay for active service, but also “pay for periods of absence from active service provided there is an employer-employee relationship.” Whether the employer chooses to make the payment through a voluntary settlement or is involuntarily made to do so through an award of damages is immaterial so long as the payment for lost wages is provided based on the recipient’s status as a service-rendering employee.

The Internal Revenue Service administers the RRTA and, therefore, is the official source for Railroad Retirement tax information.

However, for purposes only of illustrating the court’s decision, the following example is provided.

In 2019, railroad employers and employees are subject to a Railroad Retirement tier I payroll tax of 7.65 percent (6.20 percent on earnings up to $132,900 for retirement, and 1.45 percent on all earnings for Medicare hospital insurance) and a tier II tax of 13.1 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, on earnings up to $98,700. (An additional 0.9 percent in hospital insurance taxes, 2.35 percent in total, applies to an individual’s income exceeding $200,000, or $250,000 for a married couple filing a joint tax return).

If a railroad employee with no other earnings in 2019 is awarded $550,000 due to an on-the-job injury, of which $200,000 is attributable to lost wages (both past and future), the employer and employee would be required to pay $11,139.80 in tier I taxes ($8,239.80 retirement and $2,900 Medicare) and $12,929.70 and $4,836.30, respectively, in tier II taxes. (The additional Medicare tax would not apply as the award for lost wages did not exceed $200,000).

Two large U.S. rail unions announce national two-person crew legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 22, 2019) – Two large railroad unions in the United States have pledged their joint support for the Safe Freight Act legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Don Young (R – Alaska).

The Safe Freight Act (H.R. 1748) requires that two certified crew members operate freight trains on U.S. rails and has the backing of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).

“SMART Transportation Division has been working tirelessly to promote safety in the railroad industry, and there is no doubt that the only safe rail operation is one that includes at a minimum a certified conductor and a certified locomotive engineer,” SMART TD President John Previsich said. “A clear message must be sent to our lawmakers and to the general public that multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities. I would like to thank Congressman Young for his leadership on this critical issue as we continue to improve safety on our nation’s railroads for both our members and for the general public.”

“This is necessary safety legislation to protect railroad workers and the American public,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “While the railroad industry talks of one-person train crews and even autonomous trains, the 2013 tragedy of Lac-Megantic is justification enough that we need two sets of eyes and ears in the locomotive cab.”

Recent well-publicized rail accidents in other nations involving trains with one or no crew members show how smaller crews increase the risk of catastrophe in railroad accidents.

In September 2018, an autonomous runaway TasRail train reached speeds of 31 mph before it derailed in the Tasmanian city of Devonport, injuring two people. The train had become unresponsive to remote control commands, including the train’s emergency stop feature.

On Nov. 5, 2018, a runaway BHP ore train of 268 cars with no one aboard reached speeds of 62 mph before it was forcibly derailed in Western Australia. The approximately 1.9-mile-long train loaded with iron ore was operated by a lone crew member who had left the locomotive to inspect an issue with the brakes when the train began moving.

And finally, an oil train with a single-person crew in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, rolled into the center of the town July 6, 2013, after its brakes disengaged. The resulting derailment touched off an inferno that killed 47 people and destroyed the town center.

In the United States, labor unions and others concerned with safety on the United States’ 140,000 miles of rail are seeking to prevent such events from happening. Legislation setting crew size at two people aboard has passed in five states. A two-person crew bill backed by both the SMART TD and BLET unions (H.B. 1034) was signed into law March 21 by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

“Automation of cars, buses, aircraft and trucks are being addressed by legislation and in regulation by the federal government and many states. It’s time the federal government provided some oversight on railroads,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said. “Congressman Young’s bill is a first step, and we thank him for his leadership on this. The safety of the public and our members depend on this.”

“Safety is non-negotiable, and this legislation is about railroad safety,” BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman said. “The members of the BLET and SMART TD are highly trained professionals who have dedicated their lives to performing their jobs as safely as possible, and we thank Congressman Young for his ongoing support and for introducing H.R. 1748.”

This national legislation introduced by Young, a longtime advocate of railroad safety, is a common-sense step toward making our nation’s rails safer for workers and the public alike. It has the full endorsement of both unions.

H.R. 1748 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.