Longtime Amtrak conductor Carol Jones, a local chairperson with SMART-TD Local 1361 out of New Haven, Conn., and a member of our union for 23 years, was featured in a “Sister Stories” video during SMART Women’s Week in early March. See the embedded video above to watch her story of coming up in the transportation industry and working as a pioneering woman in the passenger rail sector.
Archive for the ‘Amtrak’ Category
If you are a union member who participates in certain Union Plus programs and have been affected by the severe storms in Texas, you may be eligible for financial assistance through the Union Plus Disaster Relief Grant program.
Union Plus Disaster Relief Grants of $500 are available to eligible participants of one of the following programs:
- Union Plus Credit Card Program
- Union Plus Mortgage Program
- Union Plus Personal Loan Program
- Union Plus Life Insurance
- Union Plus Accidental Death Insurance
- Union Plus Auto Insurance
- Union Plus Retiree Health Program
To qualify for a Union Plus Disaster Relief Grant:
- Your residence must be in a county qualifying for individual assistance money from FEMA. To check if your county has been designated as an area eligible for individual assistance, visit FEMA’s disaster declarations page.
- You must have had a Union Plus Credit Card for at least three months, Union Plus Personal Loan for at least six months, Union Plus Mortgage, Union Plus Retiree Health Insurance, Union Plus Life or Accidental Death Insurance or Union Plus Auto Insurance for at least 12 months with that account or policy in good standing (be up to date on payments).
If you participate in the Union Plus Credit Card Program and want to apply for a disaster relief grant, call 1-800-622-2580.
If you participate in any other of the designated programs and want to apply for a disaster relief grant, call 1-800-472-2005. The Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund has provided nearly $1 million in assistance to union members facing hardships following Hurricanes Michael and Florence, floods and other natural disasters. Head to the Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund page to learn more about the benefits and eligibility requirements.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order Jan. 29 imposing a mask requirement applicable to public transportation systems, rail, and van, bus and motorcoach service providers to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
The order implements President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 13998, Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, “to save lives and allow all Americans, including the millions of people employed in the transportation industry, to travel and work safely.”
In an announcement of the order sent to Federal Railroad Administration stakeholders and partners on Jan. 31, an agency representative wrote the following: “Science-based measures are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Mask-wearing is one of several proven life-saving measures including physical distancing, appropriate ventilation and timely testing that can reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Requiring masks will protect America’s transportation workers and passengers, help control the transmission of COVID-19, and aid in re-opening America’s economy.”
In addition to the CDC order, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates issuing additional information and guidance.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has posted a web page answering Frequently Asked Questions regarding COVID safety.
DOT will continue to add additional information to the site in the coming days and will be scheduling stakeholder calls beginning this week.
Questions regarding the mask mandate can be sent to the Federal Railroad Administration at RailroadsMaskUp@dot.gov.
Amit Bose, who served as deputy administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) during the Obama administration, was appointed to the same post last week by President Biden.
“We’re excited to be working with Amit Bose,” said SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes. “We’ve had several conversations and he understands and supports our issues. It’s a welcomed new day for rail labor.”
Bose has years of experience serving in the public sector including as FRA deputy administrator, FRA chief counsel, USDOT associate general counsel and USDOT deputy assistant secretary for governmental affairs. While in the Obama administration, Bose worked on High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail grants for projects on the Northeast Corridor and has a longtime association with the Corridor.
In addition to living along the corridor in West Windsor, N.J., and working for New Jersey Transit, Bose helped establish and later served on the Northeast Corridor Commission. He also participated in structuring the commission’s cost allocation policy, helped the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) deliver a $2.5 billion Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing (RRIF) loan to Amtrak for its next generation of Acela rail cars, and worked on the environmental review of a number of projects.
Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia released a statement on Jan. 21 supporting Bose’s appointment.
“Amit Bose will be a great addition to the Federal Railroad Administration. His extensive experience in transportation policy, law and management will be an asset to the Biden Administration,” Coscia said. “Mr. Bose understands the importance of investing in infrastructure to support economic recovery and keeping America’s railroad system reliable and safe. We look forward to working with Secretary designee Pete Buttigieg, Deputy Secretary designee Polly Trottenberg and Mr. Bose to improve and expand passenger rail service across the country.”
Before his return to FRA, Bose served as vice president for HNTB Corporation and as board chairman for the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor.
Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory in a Jan. 14 letter to union leaders denied a request from the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) to issue an emergency order to safeguard passenger rail travelers and workers, even in the face of known threats and the potential for violence, according to the FBI.
“Regrettably, we received a response from FRA Administrator Ron Batory that denied our Emergency Order request from earlier this week,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “It seems that the safety-first mentality has fleeted under his watch and now the agency is not even willing to strengthen or increase enforcement actions against those that may do harm to the people, equipment, or infrastructure of this nation’s rail system – a complete deviation from FAA, its sister agency under the same DOT umbrella.
“FAA has announced extremely aggressive measures to deter those willing to do harm from boarding commercial aircraft. It’s sad that FRA refuses to do the same.”
In his letter, Batory deferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and encouraged rail labor to work with the carriers on bulking up security. This is in spite of the FRA being the primary agency responsible for regulating and enforcing passenger behavior, including the interference or assault of a train crew.
“While your petition correctly notes the differences in statutory and regulatory authorities between the Federal Aviation Administration and the FRA, which evolved based upon operational differences and legislative considerations, these differences do not provide a basis for FRA to take the requested action,” Batory responded. “Accordingly, FRA declines to grant your request for an emergency order. In addition, FRA does not believe it would be appropriate to introduce such an emergency order into the long-standing, well-established law enforcement partnerships between railroads and Federal, state, and local agencies.
“Consistent with your stated willingness ‘to work with the applicable agencies,’ we encourage you to work with railroads as they coordinate to provide for safe passenger rail service at the upcoming Inauguration and beyond,” Batory wrote.
Leaders from both SMART-TD and the BLET, two of the nation’s largest railroad labor unions, expressed concerns to FRA on Jan. 11 and to DHS on Jan. 13 about security vulnerabilities in passenger rail service in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that occurred at the U.S. Capitol. While airport and air travel security administered by the FAA is well-equipped to react to bar those suspected of causing violence from air travel, no such measures are in place for passenger rail.
“Realizing years of neglect cannot be fixed overnight, we are demanding that significant changes to passenger rail protocol be granted immediately to protect against the imminent threat of danger that exists today,” President Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce said. “It is our recommendation, as a minimal standard, that any regulation granted to prohibit the interference of a train crew’s duty be in line with that of aviation statutes and regulations.”
Among the remedies suggested by the union leaders to FRA was the establishment and implementation of a “No-Ride List,” which would mirror the FAA’s “No Fly List” and restrict people from using passenger rail. This solution also was shared with the DHS in the Jan. 13 emergency order request.
Amtrak, the nation’s largest passenger rail carrier, in a statement released Jan. 14 from CEO Bill Flynn, said that it was in favor of a “No-Ride List.”
“There is nothing more important than the safety of our employees. Since the start of the pandemic, our dedicated frontline employees have kept our trains running, providing a vital transportation service to essential workers. We join our labor partners in continuing to call upon Congress and the Administration to make assaults against rail workers a Federal crime, as it is for aviation workers, and to expand the TSA’s “No Fly List” to rail passenger service,” Flynn said.
“After last week’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, we are taking extra steps to continue ensuring the safety of our employees and customers in Washington DC and across our network as we prepare for the Inauguration. In addition to limiting ticket sales and requiring masks to be worn at all times, we are increasing our police enforcement to ensure strong compliance, remove noncomplying customers and ban those that don’t follow our policies,” Flynn said. “This includes deploying additional Amtrak Police officers onboard our trains and in our stations to support our frontline staff, and utilizing additional support from TSA and partner law enforcement agencies.”
As a precaution in advance of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden next week, two regional passenger rail carriers have announced service changes. The Maryland Department of Transportation stated it was halting traffic on three MARC lines from Jan. 17th to the 20th. Virginia Railway Express (VRE) said it will not operate trains Monday, Jan. 18 through Jan. 20 as well, citing security concerns.
DHS continues to weigh the emergency order request from the unions to implement a “No-Ride List” despite Batory’s rejection of the unions’ emergency order request and FRA’s failure to act.
President-elect Joe Biden has decided not to take Amtrak to his inauguration ceremony after security concerns intensified following the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, CNN reports.
Biden had planned a journey similar to the one he had taken from Delaware to D.C. as a U.S. senator when he commuted daily on the passenger rail carrier. He also took a ride on Amtrak into D.C. for his 2009 inauguration for his first vice presidential term.
However, the attack on the U.S. Capitol and additional threats detected by federal agencies led to the cancellation after Biden had initially announced his intention to take the train.