Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Preliminary report issued by NTSB on accident that killed two Local 446 members

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report on the Oct. 4 collision of two Union Pacific (UP) trains in Granite Canyon, Wyo., that killed SMART Transportation Division Local 446 members Jason Vincent Martinez, 40, and Benjamin “Benji” George Brozovich, 39.

The report states that data retrieved from the event recorder of the train indicated that an emergency brake application failed to slow the train as it descended a grade west of Cheyenne before striking the rear of a stationary train.

“Normally, the locomotive would send a message to the end-of-train device to also apply the brakes with an emergency brake application,” NTSB said in the preliminary report. “According to the event recorder, the end-of-train device did not make an emergency application of the brakes. Investigators are researching the reason for the communication failure. After the engineer applied the emergency application, the train continued to accelerate until reaching 56 mph as the last recorded speed.”

Positive train control (PTC) was active at the time of the accident, NTSB said.

NTSB said further investigation will focus on components of the train’s air brake system, head-of-train and end-of-train radio-linked devices, train braking simulations and current railroad operating rules. Investigators will also determine if the railroad’s air brake and train handling instructions address monitoring air flow readings and recognizing the communication status with the end-of-train device, the report stated.

Three locomotives and 57 cars of the striking train derailed. Nine cars of the stationary train derailed.

The investigation into the collision is continuing, and a final report will be released by NTSB at a later date.

Follow this link to read the preliminary report.

RRB: Buyouts and Railroad Retirement Benefits

Railroad employees frequently ask the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) how the acceptance of a buyout from a railroad employer affects their future eligibility for benefits under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts. The following questions and answers provide information on this subject.

1.   Would leaving railroad work and accepting a buyout mean that an employee forfeits any future entitlement to an annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act?

As long as an employee has acquired at least 10 years (120 months) of creditable rail service, or 5 years (60 months) of creditable service if such service was performed after 1995, he or she would still be eligible for a regular railroad retirement annuity upon reaching retirement age, or, if totally disabled, for an annuity before retirement age, regardless of whether or not a buyout was ever accepted.

However, if a person permanently leaves railroad employment before attaining retirement age, the employee may not be able to meet the requirements for certain other benefits, particularly the current connection requirement for annuities based on occupational, rather than total, disability and for supplemental annuities paid by the RRB to career employees.

In addition, if an employee does not have a current connection, the Social Security Administration, rather than the RRB, would have jurisdiction of any survivor benefits that become payable on the basis of the employee’s combined railroad retirement and social security covered earnings. The survivor benefits payable by the RRB are generally greater than those paid by the Social Security Administration.

2.   How are buyout payments treated under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts?

Buyout payments that result from the abolishment of an employee’s job are creditable as compensation under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts. While the actual names of these employer payments may vary, the treatment given them by the RRB will depend upon whether the employee relinquished or retained his or her job rights. If the employee relinquishes job rights to obtain the compensation, the RRB considers the payment a separation allowance. This compensation is credited to either the month last worked or, if later, the month in which the employee relinquishes his or her employment relationship. While all compensation subject to tier I payroll taxes is considered in the computation of a railroad retirement annuity, no additional service months can be credited after the month in which rights are relinquished.

The RRB considers the buyout payment a dismissal allowance, even though the employer might designate the payment as a separation allowance, if the employee retains job rights and receives monthly payments credited to the months for which they are allocated under the dismissal allowance agreement. This is true even if the employee relinquishes job rights after the end of the period for which a monthly dismissal allowance was paid. However, supplemental unemployment or sickness benefits paid under an RRB-approved nongovernmental plan by a railroad or third party are not considered compensation for railroad retirement purposes.

3.   Suppose an employee is given a choice between (1) accepting a separation allowance, relinquishing job rights and having the payment he or she receives credited to one month or (2) accepting a dismissal allowance, retaining job rights and having the payment credited to the months for which it is allocated. What are some of the railroad retirement considerations the employee should keep in mind?

Individual factors such as an employee’s age and service should be considered.

For example, if an employee is already eligible to begin receiving a railroad retirement annuity, he or she may find it advantageous to relinquish job rights, accept a separation allowance, and have the annuity begin on the earliest date allowed by law. Any periodic payments made after that date would not preclude payment of the annuity because the employee has relinquished job rights.

On the other hand, some younger employees may find it more advantageous to retain job rights and accept monthly compensation payments under a dismissal allowance if these payments would allow them to acquire 120 months of creditable rail service (or 60 months of creditable rail service if such service was performed after 1995) and establish future eligibility for a railroad retirement annuity. Also, additional service months might allow a long-service employee to acquire 30 years of service, which is required for early retirement at age 60, or 25 years of rail service, which is required for supplemental annuities paid by the RRB. Establishing 25 years of service could also aid an employee in maintaining a current connection under the Railroad Retirement Act.

4.   How would acquiring 25 years of railroad service assist an employee in maintaining a current connection?

The current connection requirement is normally met if the employee has railroad service in at least 12 of the last 30 consecutive months before retirement or death. If an employee does not qualify on this basis but has 12 months of service in an earlier 30-month period, he or she may still meet the requirement if the employee does not work outside the railroad industry in the interval following the 30-month period and the employee’s retirement, or death if that occurs earlier. Nonrailroad employment in that interval will likely break the employee’s current connection.

However, a current connection can be maintained for purposes of supplemental and survivor annuities, but not occupational disability annuities, if the employee completed 25 years of railroad service, was involuntarily terminated without fault from his or her last job in the railroad industry, and did not thereafter decline an offer of employment in the same class or craft in the railroad industry, regardless of the distance to the new position. If all of these requirements are met, an employee’s current connection may not be broken, even if the employee works in regular nonrailroad employment after the 30-month period and before retirement or death. This exception to the normal current connection requirements became effective October 1, 1981, but only for employees still living on that date who left the rail industry on or after October 1, 1975, or who were on leave of absence, on furlough, or absent due to injury on October 1, 1975.

5.   Would the acceptance of a buyout have any effect on determining whether an employee could maintain a current connection under the exception provision?

In cases where an employee has no option to remain in the service of his or her employer, the termination of the employment is considered involuntary, regardless of whether the employee does or does not receive a separation or dismissal allowance.

However, an employee who chooses a separation allowance instead of keeping his or her seniority rights to railroad employment would, for railroad retirement purposes, generally be considered to have voluntarily terminated railroad service, and, consequently, would not maintain a current connection under the exception provision.

6.   An employee with 25 years of service is offered a buyout with the option of either taking payment in a single lump sum, or receiving monthly payments until retirement age. Could the method of payment affect the employee’s current connection under the exception provision?

If the employee had the choice to remain in employer service and voluntarily relinquished job rights prior to accepting the payments, his or her current connection would not be maintained under the exception provision, regardless of which payment option is chosen. Therefore, nonrailroad work after the 30-month period and before retirement, or the employee’s death if earlier, could break the employee’s current connection. Such an employee could only meet the current connection requirement under the normal procedures.

7.   Is it always advantageous to maintain a current connection?

While a current connection is generally advantageous for railroad retirement purposes, the costs of maintaining a current connection could outweigh its value, depending on individual circumstances. There may be other financial or personal factors involved besides railroad retirement eligibility and/or the preservation of a current connection, and these will vary from individual to individual.

8.   Are separation and dismissal allowances subject to railroad retirement payroll taxes?

Under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act, which is administered by the Internal Revenue Service, payments of compensation, including most buyouts, are subject to tier I, tier II and Medicare taxes on earnings up to the annual maximum earnings bases in effect when the compensation is paid. This is true whether payment is made in a lump sum or on a periodic basis.

To the extent that a separation allowance does not yield additional tier II railroad retirement service credits, a lump sum, approximating part or all of the railroad retirement tier II payroll taxes deducted from the separation allowance, will be paid upon retirement to employees meeting minimum service requirements or their survivors. This lump sum applies to separation allowances made after 1984.

If an employee receives a dismissal allowance, he or she receives service credits for the tier II taxes deducted from the dismissal allowance payments. Consequently, such a lump sum would not be payable.

If an employee has an option about how a buyout is to be distributed, he or she should consider the impact of both payroll taxes and income tax on the payments. Employees with questions in this regard should contact the payroll department of their railroad employer and/or the Internal Revenue Service.

9.   Would an employee be able to receive unemployment or sickness benefits paid by the RRB after accepting a separation allowance?

An employee who accepts a separation allowance cannot receive unemployment or sickness benefits for roughly the period of time it would have taken to earn the amount of the allowance at his or her straight-time rate of pay. This is true regardless of whether the allowance is paid in a lump sum or installments. For example, if an employee’s salary was $3,000 a month without overtime pay and the allowance was $12,000, he or she would be disqualified from receiving benefits for approximately four months.

10.   Can an employee receive unemployment benefits after his or her separation allowance disqualification period has ended?

An employee who has not obtained new employment by the end of the disqualification period and is still actively seeking work may be eligible for unemployment benefits at that time. The employee must meet all the usual eligibility requirements, including the availability for work requirement. An employee can establish his or her availability for work by demonstrating a willingness to work and making significant efforts to obtain work. In judging the employee’s willingness to work, the RRB considers, among other factors, the reason the employee accepted the separation allowance and the extent of his or her work-seeking efforts during the disqualification period.

11.   How would the acceptance of a dismissal allowance affect an employee’s eligibility for unemployment and sickness benefits?

Payments made under a dismissal allowance would be considered remuneration under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act and the employee would not be eligible for unemployment or sickness benefits during the period the dismissal allowance is being paid. The employee may, of course, be eligible for benefits after the end of this period if he or she is still actively seeking work or is unable to work because of illness or injury.

12.   Where can employees get more specific information on how benefits payable by the RRB are affected by a buyout?

Employees can get more information online or by phone. Field Office Locator at RRB.gov provides easy access to every field office webpage where the street address and other service information is posted, as well as the option to email an office directly using the feature labeled ‘Send a Secure Message’. The agency’s toll-free number, 1-877-772-5772, is equipped with an automated menu offering a variety of service options, including being transferred to an office to speak with a representative, leave a message, or find the address of a local field office. The agency also maintains a TTY number, 312-751-4701, to accommodate those with hearing or speech impairments. Most RRB offices are open to the public on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except on Wednesdays when offices are open from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. RRB offices are closed on federal holidays.

Time to mobilize against Ohio Right to Work for Less bill

Ohio Assistant State Legislative Director Ralph Leichliter sent along a notice that the Ohio House of Representatives is going to begin discussions Tuesday, Nov. 13 in Columbus about H.B. 53 — yet another attempt in the Buckeye State to get Right to Work for Less legislation passed.

Leichliter says that this bill aims to destroy union membership among public sector employees.

“We have to get a message out to our representatives ASAP to let them know that their constituents oppose this bill. As labor advocates, it’s important to protect the collective bargaining power of all workers, and to push back against the war on unions,” Leichliter said.

The primary sponsor of this attack on unions is Ohio Rep. John Becker (R – Dist. 65).

To fight back, you can send a message to your state representatives using the following links:

Ohio State Legislative Board

HB 53 – Right to Work Legislation in Ohio

Supporting Becker’s bill are 12 co-sponsors:

  • state Rep. Thomas Brinkman Jr. (R – Dist. 27)
  • state Rep. Kristina Roegner (R – Dist. 37)
  • state Rep. Niraj Antani (R – Dist. 42)
  • state Rep. Derrick Merrin (R – Dist. 47)
  • state Rep. Candice Keller (R – Dist. 53)
  • state Rep. Paul Zeltwanger (R – Dist. 54)
  • state Rep. Bill Dean (R – Dist. 74)
  • state Rep. Ron Hood (R – Dist. 78)
  • state Rep. Craig Riedel (R – Dist. 82)
  • state Rep. A. Nino Vitale (R – Dist. 85)
  • state Rep. Andy Thompson (R- Dist. 95)

Honoring our Veterans

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

“Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

“Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

“Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”

An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” which stated: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.”

On that same day, President Eisenhower sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Higley,Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), designating him as chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee.

In 1958, the White House advised VA’s General Counsel that the 1954 designation of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA Administrators. Since March 1989 when VA was elevated to a cabinet level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee’s chairman.

The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Click here to find Veterans Day events.

Click here for military discounts available on Veterans Day.

Election Day 2018

This is an important year for the direction of our country, and as we do on the roads and on the rails of these great United States, SMART Transportation Division will lead the way.

With your vote comes the chance to shape where the future of the transportation industry will go by selecting those candidates who support issues, such as two-person crews, the safety of our bus operators and yardmaster legislation, that are important to us.

Not registered? Voters in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Washington, D.C., Wisconsin and Wyoming can still register and vote today!

Elections matter. Be sure to have your say about the future of your paycheck, your healthcare, your retirement and your safety on the job.

For election and poll location information in your state, text “VOTE UNION” to 21333. Message and data rates may apply.

Former Vice General Chairperson Tom Baker has died

Local 911 (Minneapolis) Local Chairperson Tom “TJ” Baker, 32, died Tuesday, Oct. 27. A 12-year member, Baker had served his union as local chairperson and 3rd vice general chairperson of GO 261 – Canadian Pacific (SOO Line) since 2015.

Brother Baker is the son of former GO 261 General Chairperson Dennis Baker.

“Tom was a great guy. He was the heart and soul of Local 911,” said Phil Qualy, SMART TD Minnesota state legislative director.

Baker is survived by his parents, Dennis and Patricia; son, Charles; sister, Shelley (Jonathan) Floyd; brother, Lee Baker; and many other family and friends, including his four-legged best friend, Harley.

A visitation will be held Wednesday, Nov. 7 from 5 – 8 p.m. at the Wulff Woodbury Funeral Home, 2195 Woodlane Dr., Woodbury, MN 55125. An hour visitation will be held at 10 a.m. at the Church of Guardian Angels, 8260 4th St. N., Oakdale, MN 55128, followed by a memorial mass at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8.

SMART TD extends their deepest sympathies to family, friends and Local 911 during this difficult time.

Click here for more information or to leave condolences for the family.

UPDATED: New round of TD Connect workshops announced for 2019

Because of great demand, a new round of three workshops has been added to help local treasurers learn how to use TD Connect, the new eBilling system that also manages member records. A series of five prior workshops scheduled for late 2018 filled to capacity, so this second round was added. Follow the links below to register.

Workshops are scheduled for:

A flier is available with additional information about hotel rates and the workshops (PDF).

Attendees also are asked to complete the online TD Connect Overview workshop before the first day.

Workshops will run 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. all three days and will educate local treasurers about the new TD Connect eBill system along with the newest version of WinStabs. Additional topics may include: maintaining payroll deductions, making proper disbursements, budgeting, record keeping, paying taxes and filing reports with authorities.

Attendance for each workshop is limited and spaces will be filled on a first-come basis. A waitlist will be made available for those interested in attending a workshop once one has been filled. Contact Alyssa Patchin at the TD offices to be placed on the list.

The sessions will include all training and materials at no cost to the local. However, the local is responsible for all other costs associated with the treasurer’s attendance at the workshop. Lost time or salary, travel, hotel and meal expenses connected with attendance may be reimbursed if pre-approved by the membership at the local meeting as an allowable expense of the local.

For more information or to be placed on a workshop waitlist, call Alyssa Patchin at the TD offices or email apatchin@smart-union.org.

NTSB identifies causes of 2017 ethanol train derailment in Iowa

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Oct. 30 ruled that flaws in Union Pacific’s approach to inspecting, maintaining and repairing defects on the Estherville Subdivision helped to cause a March 2017 derailment that resulted in multiple tank cars spilling undenatured ethanol in Graettinger, Iowa.

A rail near a transition onto a bridge broke, causing 20 tank cars to derail in the accident that happened at 12:50 a.m. local time March 10, 2017. Fourteen of the tank cars spilled 322,000 gallons of ethanol, causing a fire that burned for more than 36 hours. Three nearby homes were evacuated as a result of the accident, which caused an estimated $4 million in damage, including the destruction of 400 feet of track and a 152-foot railroad bridge.

NTSB investigators survey the March 2017 derailment of a Union Pacific train carrying undenatured ethanol in Graettinger, Iowa.

During the NTSB hearing, board member Jennifer Homendy said she made a review of a decade’s worth of accident data for UP and the numbers showed one thing in common.

“Every year, track defects are the chief cause of accidents with UP,” she said.

Along Estherville’s 79-mile stretch, Homendy said that 102 defects of “marginal” and “poor” crossties were identified over a two-year period from 2015-17.

After the carrier received the reports of rail or crosstie defects, chief accident inspector Michael Hiller said UP didn’t take enough steps to fix the problems prior to the accident.

“The inspectors were going out and they were doing their inspections, and they were reporting the conditions of the tie,” Hiller said. “In many cases – more than 100, as member Homendy pointed out – there were remediation efforts, and it’s clear based on our observations post-accident that the remediation efforts restored the track back to its minimum condition that it needed to sustain traffic.

“We’re looking to see that things are not just restored back to the minimum…we know that doesn’t work. If you’re finding 10 or 12 crossties in a 39-foot section of track that are defective, it’s not a good practice to go in and replace two or three just to restore the track.”

Also contributing to the accident was what NTSB described as “inadequate oversight” on the part of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

While FRA inspectors raised the carrier’s attention to track defects — the agency had just initiated a compliance agreement in late 2016 as a result of a fiery oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore. — and some action was taken, Hiller said not all enforcement measures, such as civil penalties, were used.

NTSB investigators also noted that FRA inspectors neglected to report some defective crosstie conditions.

After the Graettinger accident, Hiller said that the carrier has shown “very good response” to reports of tie defects and maintenance and has performed twice-weekly inspections on the subdivision in a post-accident agreement with FRA.

However, the NTSB did note that there was one week where the carrier inspected the subdivision only once.

“The extent of post-accident actions, while welcome, hints at the inadequacy of UP’s pre-accident maintenance and inspection program,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said. “The railroad is supposed to look for and fix unsafe conditions as a matter of course.”

Finally, the use of U.S. DOT 111 tanker cars to transport the ethanol also worsened the environmental impact of the accident, investigators said.

Hiller said that 10 of the 14 tankers that breached met old DOT 111 specifications “identified as having a high probability of releasing hazardous materials.”

DOT 117 specifications established by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Agency (PHMSA) add reinforcement and other design features to cars transporting both crude oil and ethanol.

“The tougher design would have prevented the release,” Sumwalt said.

FRA identifies ethanol as the most hazardous material that is transported by rail in the United States. The denaturing process adds toxic compounds to make it unfit for human consumption and also lessens the tax burden for the carriers transporting it because it is not a beverage.

In the Graettinger accident, the ethanol was undenatured, meaning that the toxins were not added to the alcohol being transported.

“This seems to have had a beneficial effect on safety,” Sumwalt said. “Investigators found milder damage in this accident than in previous accidents with the same type of tank cars, but those involved denatured alcohol.”

It was suggested that a safety benefit might be achieved by getting rid of denaturants when transporting ethanol.

“Never before have I seen a regulation to make a hazardous material more hazardous,” Robert Hall, an expert in hazardous materials transport, said of the denaturing process. “It doesn’t make sense.”

A May 1, 2023, regulatory deadline has been set for all DOT 111 tank cars that carry ethanol to be changed over or retrofitted to meet the higher DOT 117 standards. In order to achieve that deadline, about 350 tank cars per month must be changed over.

Recommendations

At the hearing, NTSB issued three new safety recommendations and reiterated one safety recommendation to the FRA, PHMSA and UP. They address training on safety standards and available enforcement options for federal track inspectors, the need for research to determine if safety would be improved by transporting ethanol in an undenatured state, and the need for Union Pacific to re-examine track maintenance and inspection program standards on all routes carrying high hazardous flammable materials.

“The recommendations just issued, if acted upon, will result in better training for FRA track inspectors and clear guidance involving available enforcement options,” Sumwalt said. “They will result in UP re-examining its track maintenance and inspection program standards. Today’s recommendations will result in research by PHMSA into whether alcohol — ethanol — should be transported in an undenatured state and furthermore, a recommendation first issued in 2015 and reiterated today will result in progress milestone schedules for the phasing out of the DOT 111 tank cars for ethanol service by 2023, if acted upon.

“Otherwise, we risk a so-called sudden realization that isn’t sudden at all. We could have seen this train coming down the track.”

NTSB’s report states alcohol or drug use, and cell phone use were not factors in the accident, nor was the mechanical condition of the train, the performance of the train crew or the emergency response a factor. The full report will be available on the NTSB website when finalized.

Resources for those impacted by Hurricane Michael

The following health and wellness resources are available to those impacted by Hurricane Michael.

Behavioral Health:

United Behavioral Health/Optum: 1-866-342-6892 (toll-free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 
An emotional support hotline is available, free of charge, regardless of behavioral health plan membership. It provides access to specially-trained mental health specialists.

Prescription Drugs:

Accredo and Express Scripts: 1-800-842-0070 (toll-free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, express-scripts.com
If you are affected by the hurricane and need your medicine, we can help. If you need an emergency fill, login to express-scripts.com and go to Find a Pharmacy to locate a nearby network pharmacy. Then, call the pharmacy to check if it is open. If your ID card is unavailable, call the number above for assistance, and to locate a nearby network pharmacy. Deliveries might be delayed into affected areas.

Vision:

EyeMed: 1-866-652-0018 (toll-free) Mon-Sat 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. ET; Sun 8 a.m.-8 p.m. ET 
If you’ve lost, broken or damaged your eyewear, emergency (temporary) replacement glasses can be sent to you, at no cost, with overnight shipping (must call by 2:30 p.m. ET for same-day processing). Or, if you prefer to order permanent replacement glasses or contacts, expedited shipping is available.

Medical care and more:

Teladoc: 1-855-764-1727 (toll-free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or for more information visit teladoc.com/michael/
Telemedicine services are available to any resident of an evacuation zone, regardless of health plan membership. Individuals can request a call from a doctor, free of charge, to handle non-emergency medical problems via specific contact information above.

Railroad HEALTHLINK: 1-866-735-5685 (toll-free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 
Free telephone access to registered nurses is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week regardless of health plan membership.

Aetna: 1-833-327-2386 (toll-free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 
Help finding care, behavioral health support, and assistance with finding available shelters and government resources, and other services are available through Aetna’s Resources for Living, regardless of health plan membership to people in affected areas.

Highmark/Blue Cross Blue Shield: 1-866-267-3320 (toll free) Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-8 p.m. ET 
For those who reside in areas where States of Emergency have been declared, waivers have been put in place for Medical Authorization Requirements, Claims Timely Filing, and Paying Out-of-Network Claims as In-Network.

UnitedHealthcare: 1-866-735-5685 (toll-free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 
Free telephone access to registered nurses is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week regardless of health plan membership. Help finding health care services is available through the toll-free phone number, and in-network rates will be available even if members are not able to see an in-network provider.

HealthAdvocate: 1-866-799-2690 (toll-free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 
Experts are available to help: locate in-network providers in a new area, find facilities that will be able to provide temporary assistance, transfer medical records and prescriptions, get a short supply of medications if prescriptions have been lost, coordinate care between insurance company and medical providers, answer benefit and treatment questions and help with elderly parents.

Dental:

Aetna Dental: 1-877-238-6200 (toll-free) Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-6 p.m. ET 
Members affected by the hurricane who need care or other assistance can access Aetna.

RRB releases Medicare Part B premiums for 2019

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has announced that the standard monthly Part B premium will be $135.50 in 2019, a slight increase from $134.00 in 2018. However, some Medicare beneficiaries will pay slightly less than this amount. By law, Part B premiums for current enrollees cannot increase by more than the amount of the cost-of-living adjustment for social security (railroad retirement tier I) benefits.

Since that adjustment is 2.8 percent in 2019, about 2 million Medicare beneficiaries will see an increase in their Part B premiums but still pay less than $135.50. The standard premium amount will also apply to new enrollees in the program, and certain beneficiaries will continue to pay higher premiums based on their modified adjusted gross income.

The monthly premiums that include income-related adjustments for 2019 will range from $189.60 up to $460.50, depending on the extent to which an individual beneficiary’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $85,000 (or $170,000 for a married couple). The highest rate applies to beneficiaries whose incomes exceed $500,000 (or $750,000 for a married couple). The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates that about 5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries pay the larger income-adjusted premiums.

Beneficiaries in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plans pay premiums that vary from plan to plan. Part D beneficiaries whose modified adjusted gross income exceeds the same income thresholds that apply to Part B premiums also pay a monthly adjustment amount. In 2019, the adjustment amount ranges from $12.40 to $77.40.

The Railroad Retirement Board withholds Part B premiums from benefit payments it processes. The agency can also withhold Part C and D premiums from benefit payments if an individual submits a request to his or her Part C or D insurance plan.

The following tables show the income-related Part B premium adjustments for 2019. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for all income-related monthly adjustment amount determinations. To make the determinations, SSA uses the most recent tax return information available from the Internal Revenue Service. For 2019, that will usually be the beneficiary’s 2017 tax return information. If that information is not available, SSA will use information from the 2016 tax return.

Those railroad retirement and social security Medicare beneficiaries affected by the 2019 Part B and D income-related premiums will receive a notice from SSA by the end of the year. The notice will include an explanation of the circumstances where a beneficiary may request a new determination. Persons who have questions or would like to request a new determination should contact SSA after receiving their notice.

Additional information about Medicare coverage, including specific benefits and deductibles, can be found at www.medicare.gov.

2019 PART B PREMIUMS 

Beneficiaries who file an individual tax return with income:

Beneficiaries who file a joint tax return with income:

Income-related monthly adjustment amount

Total monthly Part B premium amount

 

Less than or equal to $85,000 

Less than or equal to $170,000

$0.00

$135.50

Greater than $85,000 and less than or equal to $107,000 

Greater than $170,000 and less than or equal to $214,000

$54.10

$189.60

Greater than $107,000 and less than or equal to $133,500 

Greater than $214,000 and less than or equal to $267,000

$135.40

$270.90

Greater than $133,500 and less than or equal to $160,000

Greater than $267,000 and less than or equal to $320,000

$216.70

$352.20

Greater than $160,000 and less than $500,000

Greater than $320,000 and less than $750,000

$297.90

$433.40

$500,000 and above

$750,000 and above

$325.00

$460.50

 

The monthly premium rates paid by beneficiaries who are married, but file a separate return from their spouses and who lived with their spouses at some time during the taxable year, are different.  Those rates are as follows:

 

Beneficiaries who are married, but file a separate tax return, with income:

Income-related monthly adjustment amount

Total monthly Part B premium amount

Less than or equal to $85,000

$0.00

$135.50

Greater than $85,000 and less than $415,000

$297.90

$433.40

$415,000 and above

$325.00

$460.50

 

FTA increases random drug testing rate for 2019

As mandated by its drug and alcohol regulation, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will increase the minimum rate of random drug testing from 25 percent to 50 percent of covered employees for employers subject to FTA’s drug and alcohol regulation, effective January 1, 2019. This change is due to an increase in the industry’s ‘‘positive rate’’ as reflected in random drug test data for calendar year 2017.

The required minimum rate for random alcohol testing is unaffected by this change and will remain at 10 percent for 2019.

Click here to read FTA’s letter about this increase.

‘Minibus’ bill’s signing provides funds to NMB, RRB

The funding levels that was in effect for the 2018 fiscal year for both the National Mediation Board (NMB) and for the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) remain steady for the 2019 fiscal year in the “minibus” budget bill that was signed by President Donald Trump.

The RRB will receive $123.5 million — $113.5 million will go to administrative costs with the $10 million balance funding RRB’s initiative to improve its information technology structure.

“Based on the last cost estimate provided by the RRB, with this funding level, the agency will have received nearly half of the total cost of its IT overhaul,” National Legislative Director John Risch said.

Funding also held steady for the NMB, which provides dispute-resolution processes between rail unions and carriers through mediation, representation and arbitration between labor and management.

The board last fiscal year received a boost in its funding to $13.8 million in part to help it work through a number of pending Section 3 cases. That funding level stays, although not all those Section 3 cases were heard — the board made a move over the summer to close many cases that were unfunded, more than three years old and had not advanced in the process.

Those cases could be reopened if a party involved in the aged-out cases writes a letter to the NMB’s director of arbitration services.

NMB had about 6,400 cases to deal with overall at the end of October.