The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued three urgent safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), acting upon the agency’s findings in two ongoing railroad accident investigations.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) received one urgent safety recommendation based on NTSB findings in the agency’s investigation of the Feb. 4, 2018, collision of an Amtrak train and a CSX train near Cayce, S.C. The conductor and engineer of the Amtrak train died as a result of the collision. The NTSB issued two urgent safety recommendations to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) based on findings from its investigation of the June 10, 2017, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) accident in which a roadway worker died near Queens Village, N.Y.
In the investigation of the train collision in Cayce, South Carolina, investigators found that on the day before the accident, CSX personnel suspended the traffic control signal system to install updated traffic control system components for the implementation of positive train control (PTC). The lack of signals required dispatchers to use track warrants to move trains through the work territory.
In this accident, and in a similar March 14, 2016, accident in Granger, Wyo., safe movement of the trains, through the signal suspension, depended upon proper switch alignment. That switch alignment relied on error-free manual work, which was not safeguarded by either technology or supervision, creating a single point of failure.
The NTSB concludes additional measures are needed to ensure safe operations during signal suspension and so issued an urgent safety recommendation to the FRA seeking an emergency order directing restricted speed for trains or locomotives passing through signal suspensions when a switch has been reported relined for a main track.
“The installation of the life-saving positive train control technology on the CSX tracks is not the cause of the Cayce, S.C. train collision,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.
“While the collision remains under investigation, we know that signal suspensions are an unusual operating condition, used for signal maintenance, repair and installation, that have the potential to increase the risk of train collisions. That risk was not mitigated in the Cayce collision. Our recommendation, if implemented, works to mitigate that increased risk.” said Sumwalt.
During the investigation of the LIRR accident, the NTSB identified an improper practice by LIRR roadway workers who were working on or near the tracks. LIRR employees were using “train approach warning” as their method of on-track safety, but they did not clear the track, as required, when trains approached and their “predetermined place of safety” did not comply with LIRR rules and procedures.
The NTSB is concerned LIRR management is overlooking and therefore normalizing noncompliance with safety rules and regulations for proper clearing of tracks while using “train approach warning” for worker protection. The two urgent safety recommendations to the MTA call for MTA to audit LIRR’s use of “train approach warning” for worker protection, and, to implement corrective action for deficiencies found through the audit.
Amtrak employees represented by SMART Transportation Division General Committees of Adjustment GO-769, GO-663, and GO-342 (Conductors, Assistant Conductors, and Yardmasters) voted in overwhelming favor of ratifying a tentative agreement reached last month.
The agreement, effective April 1, 2018, provides a compounded 18.83 percent pay increase over the life of the contract, which runs through 2021, plus retroactive pay.
The contract also caps monthly healthcare contributions at $228 while adding services such as telemedicine and a fixed 24-month continuation of coverage period, among others. It establishes AMPLAN 1A, a lower-cost healthcare plan that will be available to all employees beginning Jan. 1, 2019, and compulsory for new hires during their first five years of service.
For members of the military who lose earnings because of their service, the agreement accounts for up to 120 hours of “make whole” pay.
SMART TD President John Previsich and Vice Presidents John England and John Lesniewski led the negotiating team, and a tentative agreement was reached Jan. 11.
“Their combined efforts were instrumental in reaching our goal of gaining wage increases and certification allowances that are comparable to industry standards,” General Chairperson Dirk Sampson (GO-769) said in a Feb. 6 letter to his membership announcing the vote results.
General Chairperson Robert Keeley (GO-342) in a letter to his membership expressed gratitude to leadership and to fellow members of the negotiating committee, including Vice General Chairperson Charlie Yura and Secretary Rick Pauli.
“We walked into negotiations together and we found success together,” Keeley said.
As did his fellow GCs, Fran Ariola, general chairperson of GO-663, expressed appreciation to leadership, members of the negotiating team, his colleagues and to his membership.
“I would like to thank you for this opportunity to represent our GCA and our members during this negotiation process,” Ariola wrote in a Feb. 6 letter.
After months of having his nomination on hold in the U.S. Senate, Ronald L. Batory was confirmed Tuesday evening as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration by unanimous voice vote.
Batory’s ascension to the position came after U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, removed a hold he had placed on the nomination.
The hold on Batory’s nomination had been an attempt by the Democratic senator to work out federal funding for the multibillion-dollar Gateway Tunnel project between his home state of New York and New Jersey.
Batory, former CEO and president of Conrail, was nominated in July to lead the FRA by President Donald Trump. As the delay on his confirmation continued, Batory began working in November as a special assistant to federal Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, advising on rail matters.
“Ron Batory is a veteran railroader who knows the industry,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said. “We fully supported his nomination and confirmation, and his hands-on, real-world experience at Conrail and elsewhere gives him a perspective that the agency has lacked during the period that his nomination had been on hold.
“We look forward to working with him at FRA.”
While Batory’s confirmation remained in political limbo, the FRA was being described as “rudderless” in some media reports.
Deputy Administrator Heath Hall, who had been leading the agency, resigned mere days before Batory’s confirmation after allegations surfaced in the media that Hall was working a second job.
Hall had been on a leave of absence from the agency since late January, and Juan D. Reyes III had been overseeing the FRA.
In addition to Batory’s confirmation, Raymond Martinez was confirmed by the Senate as administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The United State Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) has issued its spring schedule of informational conferences and pre-retirement seminars for union officers and for rail workers respectively. Registration for both of these types of programs is required and available at the RRB website (www.rrb.gov).
RRB informational conferences
The RRB’s informational conference program was started by the Office of the Labor Member in 1957 to provide local union officers comprehensive information about the benefits available to rail employees and their families under the railroad retirement and unemployment insurance systems. Union officers who attend RRB can become better prepared to share accurate, reliable information with their members.
Union officials planning to attend an informational conference program must register either online or print a paper form from the RRB website then complete and return the registration form to your local RRB field office. These conferences are only open to Local union officers.
If you plan on attending with your spouse or another guest, please indicate so in the designated fields on your registration form.
If you register for a conference and become unable to attend, inform the RRB.
Bring photo identification for entry to federal buildings; no weapons allowed.
Conferences with parking fees are marked with *.
March 16, 2018: West Covina Library, 1601 West Covina Parkway, West Covina, Calif.
March 23, 2018: Country Inn & Suites, 4500 Circle 75 Parkway, Atlanta, Ga.
March 23, 2018: Maidu Community Center, 1500 Maidu Drive, Roseville, Calif.
April 13, 2018: Hilton Garden Inn – Richmond Airport, 441 International Center Drive, Sandston, Va.
April 13, 2018: Drury Inn & Suites (St. Louis Forest Park), 2111 Sulphur Avenue, St. Louis, Mo.
April 20, 2018: Huntington Center, 23rd Floor Conference Room, 525 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio *
April 20, 2018: Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, 6th Floor Conference Room A/B, New York, N.Y. *
April 27, 2018: Holiday Inn Romulus, 8400 Merriman Road, Romulus, Mich.
April 27, 2018: Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, 28500 West Park Highway, Ashland, Neb. *
May 4, 2018: Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 2, 2902 Blue Ridge Boulevard, Kansas City, Mo.
May 4, 2018: Corporate Conference Center, 180 East 5th Street, 2nd Floor, St. Paul, Minn. *
May 11, 2018: Hampton Inn Altoona, 180 Charlotte Drive, Altoona, Pa.
May 11, 2018: Comfort Inn & Suites Presidential, 707 Interstate 30, Little Rock, Ark.
May 18, 2018: Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 33, 12525 Corporate Drive, Parma, Ohio
May 18, 2018: Holiday Inn Denver (Lakewood), 7390 West Hamden Avenue, Lakewood, Colo.
RRB Pre-retirement seminar schedule
Designed for railroad employees and spouses planning to retire within five years, the pre-retirement seminars familiarize attendees with retirement benefits available to them, and also guide them through the application process. Registration is required.
March 23, 2018: Maidu Community Center, 1500 Maidu Drive, Roseville, Calif.
April 13, 2018: Robert A. Roe Federal Building, 200 Federal Plaza, 5th Floor (Room 527), Paterson, N.J.
May 11, 2018: Roanoke South County Library, 6303 Merriman Road, Roanoke, Va.
May 11, 2018: Hampton Inn Altoona, 180 Charlotte Drive, Altoona, Pa.
May 23, 2018: IBEW Local 714 Union Hall, 1800 Commerce Drive, Bismarck, N.D.
Medicare is always working to fight fraud and abuse. With that, a new type of claim review has recently begun: a process called Targeted Probe and Educate, or ‘TPE’ for short.
How TPE works:
Palmetto GBA/Railroad Medicare will conduct data analysis and find providers whose billing may be very different from their peers. Palmetto will also look at providers who have been identified as having a high error rate (having filed claims that should not be paid, due to medical necessity issues, billing or coding errors, or ones that do not have sufficient documentation to support the service was rendered as billed).
Once a provider is identified, Palmetto will request records for 20 to 40 services, depending on how much the provider has billed to Railroad Medicare.
After the claims are reviewed, one of Palmetto’s clinical staff members will contact the provider by letter and by phone to go over their results and offer education on how to bill and document their services correctly. If the provider has a high error rate in the review, then Palmetto will ask for records for an additional 20-40 claims submitted for payment and follow the process outlined above. If the provider fails to improve again, then a last round of TPE is conducted. If the provider’s error rate is still unacceptable, they will be referred to Palmetto’s Benefit Integrity Unit for investigation. The same is true for providers who refuse to respond to the records requests.
However, if the provider makes an appropriate improvement, they can be removed from the TPE process for a period of time, and then rechecked later to be sure they are still in compliance.
If your provider has questions:
Your provider may have questions about this review process. If they do, please ask them to call our Provider Contact Center at 888-355-9165 and select Option 5. Customer Service Representatives can assist them in understanding the TPE process. All Medicare contractors are using the TPE process to review claims.
If you have any questions about your Railroad Medicare coverage, please call Palmetto’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. For the hearing impaired, call TTY/TDD at 877-566-3572. This line is for the hearing impaired with the appropriate dial-up service and is available during the same hours customer service representatives are available.
Palmetto also invites you to join their listserv/email updates. Just select the ‘Listservs’ link at the top of their main webpage at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 passed early this morning by both houses of Congress and signed by President Donald Trump provides some benefits to transportation workers and the industry.
“Discretionary spending for domestic infrastructure will see a $20 billion increase, which could mean more funds for transit and/or Amtrak-related projects. The two-year budget provides a better opportunity to secure adequate funding for National Mediation Board arbitration and Railroad Retirement Board agency needs,” said National Legislative Director John Risch.
The bill also includes a one-year (2017) extension of the short-line tax credit known as Section 45G, that helps Class II and III railroads pay for the maintenance of their infrastructure.
Finally, the tax credit known as Section 45-Q that encourages power companies to capture carbon emissions in coal-fired plants, helping to keep coal a part of the United States energy mix, has been extended.
However, the bill does not exempt unemployment and sickness benefits provided by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) from the funding cuts known as sequestration. Some media reports said all nondefense-related sequesters were repealed, but the board confirmed later that RRB unemployment and sickness benefits are categorized as direct, not discretionary, spending and therefore still were subject to being sequestered.
Sequestration has carved out 6.6 percent of the funding to these RRB benefits – which would translate to a total of $9 million in the 2018 fiscal year. Restoration of these funds would reinstate the maximum of $72.00 per day or $720.00 per two-week or 10-day claim period for rail workers who claim unemployment or sickness through RRB.
SMART Transportation Division members out of Local 1626 were among the recipients of the Gold Spike award from Alaska Railroad in late January.
Members Benjamin Bowen, Ryan Diehl, Caitlin Elison, Joshua Robinson, Bryan Sooter and Steven Tennison were among those who received a team award for “a sustained level of excellent performance and team-driven professional development, which in turn, improved train transportation performance.”
SMART Transportation Division Local 278 member Kyle Jones and his wife Samantha received devastating news Jan. 14, when their seven-year-old son Ayden was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APML). This is an extremely rare cancer for someone as young as Ayden.
The cancer was found after Ayden had been taken to urgent care with symptoms of the flu. The urgent care thought he had pneumonia and suggested that Ayden be taken to a children’s hospital in South Bend, Ind., where he was diagnosed with APML.
In order to get the best care possible, Ayden went to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis where he started chemotherapy and was placed on a high risk treatment path for APML due to the high number of leukemia and white blood cells found in his system. The path, at its shortest – if everything goes to plan, will include 9 to 12 months of intensive chemotherapy and bone marrow testing.
The early stages of recovery are the most dangerous for Ayden. The cancer cells in his bone marrow have stopped the production of blood clotting agents and the cancer cells in his blood are sending signals to clot throughout his body. Because of this, Ayden is at a high-risk for strokes and does not have any way to stop bleeding. If Ayden can make it out of this window of risk for clotting and bleeding, APML has a 100 percent cure rate. Thus far, Ayden has been responding well to the treatments.
“As a father who has had to deal with both a serious medical issue with one of my children, and as a cancer survivor myself, I understand the mental, physical and financial battle that has been put in front of this family,” said Jerry Gibson, SMART TD’s Michigan state legislative director.
“I was fortunate enough to have so many friends, family and strangers step up and assist with donations and prayers. Knowing you have the support of others allows the family to focus on the important task at hand – getting their loved one healthy and home. Please consider donating to this cause so that Kyle and Samantha can get Ayden back home.”
As you can imagine, this type of care and the need for his parents to be at Ayden’s side pose a significant financial burden, but the generosity of others can help alleviate it. Please do what you can to help Ayden and his family in their time of need.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the Jones family with the financial burden caused by Ayden’s illness. Click here to donate to the GoFundMe account.
Tshirts in support of Ayden (approved by Ayden himself) are also being sold and all proceeds go directly to the Jones family. Sizes range from YXS – 3XL and cost $25. Click here to buy a tshirt.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that two commuter railroad terminal accidents in the New York area were caused by engineer fatigue resulting from undiagnosed severe obstructive sleep apnea.
The Sept. 29, 2016, accident on the New Jersey Transit railroad at Hoboken, New Jersey, killed one person, injured 110, and resulted in major damage to the station. The Jan. 4, 2017, accident on the Long Island Rail Road at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York, injured 108 people. Both accidents involved trains that struck end-of-track bumping posts and crashed into stations.
The NTSB found the two accidents had “almost identical” probable causes and safety issues. The board also determined that these safety issues were not unique to these two properties, but exist throughout the country at many intercity passenger and commuter passenger train terminals.
When operating a train into a terminating track, the engineer’s actions, or lack thereof, solely determine whether the train stops before the end of the track. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), there are currently no mechanisms installed in the U.S. that will automatically stop a train at the end of the track if the engineer is incapacitated, inattentive or disengaged. Some railroads have overspeed capabilities, including New Jersey Transit and the LIRR. However, as shown in these two accidents, once the engineer slowed the train to the prescribed speed, the system did not stop the trains before they reached the end of the track.
In addition to recommending safety-sensitive personnel be screened for obstructive sleep apnea, the board recommended the use of technology, such as positive train control (PTC), in terminal stations and improving the effectiveness of system safety program plans to improve terminal operations. The NTSB made two recommendations to New Jersey Transit, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the parent company of the Long Island Rail Road) and two to the FRA.
“Today’s new recommendations, if acted upon, have the potential to eliminate end-of-track collisions,’’ Sumwalt said. “That translates to protection for passengers on trains, and for people standing on terminal platforms.”
The complete accident report will be available in several weeks. The findings, probable cause, safety recommendations, Chairman Sumwalt’s prepared remarks and PowerPoint presentations used in a board meeting are all available at https://go.usa.gov/xnscj.
The New Jersey Transit Hoboken accident docket, containing more than 1,100 pages of supporting factual material, is available at https://go.usa.gov/xnAGJ.
The Long Island Rail Road Brooklyn accident docket, containing more than 1,400 pages of supporting factual material, is available at https://go.usa.gov/xnAGe.
New Jersey Transit train #1614 after crashing into the NJT Hoboken Terminal, Sept. 29, 2016. (NTSB photo taken by Chris O’Neil)
A memorial fund for Amtrak conductor Mike Cella, a current SMART Transportation Division member out of Local 30 in Florida, and engineer Mike Kempf, a former SMART TD member, who were tragically killed in the line of duty on Sunday, Feb. 4, has been established.
Proceeds from the fund will be used to help their families with expenses as they grieve the loss of these men in the collision of Amtrak 91 with a parked CSX freight train.
Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), reported some preliminary findings Monday afternoon of his agency’s investigation into the Amtrak-CSX train collision that occurred Feb. 4 near Cayce, S.C.
The train had 139 passengers and eight crewmembers on board. The engineer and conductor in the cab of the locomotive were killed and six passengers remain hospitalized, two in critical condition. SMART TD conductor Michael Cella of Local 30 in Florida was one of two Amtrak crewmembers killed in the accident.
Based upon the event data recorders located within the Amtrak locomotive, Sumwalt said, Amtrak Train 91 was not speeding at the time of the collision.
He said Amtrak’s data recorder had the following information:
The train horn was sounded for three seconds at the seven second mark before the collision.
The train was traveling at a maximum speed of 57 mph in a 59-mph zone.
The engineer moved the throttle to idle and had applied the emergency brakes before the collision.
At the time of the collision, the train had reduced its speed to 50 mph.
Sumwalt stated that the reason for the 59-mph speed limit in the area was attributable to track signals being inoperable due to CSX performing upgrades to their track signal system to switch over to positive train control (PTC). He said a track warrant system was in place, and Amtrak had been given clearance to operate in the area.
As previously reported by Sumwalt, a switch had been thrown to allow a CSX train to back into a side track. The switch had never been released back to its original position, and the Amtrak train entered the track where the CSX freight train was parked instead of continuing on the main track.
Sumwalt said that the CSX dispatcher had been notified that the siding operation had been completed and so gave Amtrak clearance to proceed through.
Typically, when the dispatcher is given notification that such a proceeding has been completed, it means that the switch has been moved back into position. The NTSB is investigating as to why the switch had been locked into position for the siding.
Sumwalt reported that interviews with CSX’s engineer, conductor, trainmaster and dispatcher had been conducted Monday along with some of Amtrak’s crew.
Additional interviews are planned for Tuesday. No information about the content of the interviews was released.
The information provided in Monday’s press conference is considered preliminary, and no conclusions should or can be drawn until the NTSB’s investigation is complete and official causes are released by the agency.