Archive for the ‘Positive Train Control’ Category

The INVEST in America Act and how it protects TD members

A surface transportation reauthorization bill introduced June 4 by chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has a wide-reaching positive impact for members of the SMART Transportation Division.

Mostly mirroring the identically named INVEST in America Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last summer but died in the Republican-held Senate, the 2021 version known as H.R. 3684 is a $547 billion five-year surface transportation bill with a two-person freight crew provision and encompasses other issues important to all TD members.

“Chairman DeFazio, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Donald Payne once again proved that they are receptive to the safety of and the needs of all SMART Transportation Division members,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Every one of our members has a stake in this bill and in the protections and actions this legislation puts forth. We are thankful for the representatives’ work, and we support this effort to move the transportation industry ahead.”

The bill directs federal investments in roads, bridges, transit, and rail, re-imagines national transportation policies and helps put President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan that invests in American workers and communities into motion.

“The benefits of transformative investments in our infrastructure are far-ranging: we can create and sustain good-paying jobs, many of which don’t require a college degree, restore our global competitiveness, tackle climate change head-on, and improve the lives of all Americans through modern infrastructure that emphasizes mobility and access, and spurs our country’s long-term economic growth,” DeFazio said.

Of particular importance to TD members are the portions of the INVEST in America Act that cover bus, transit and freight rail.

“This bill is all-encompassing — seeking redesigns of bus operator compartments so that drivers are more protected, protecting transit workers from assault and looking into school bus safety. The representatives also heard our voices regarding almost every one of the concerns we have about the current state of the railroad industry — crew size, train length, the utility of Positive Train Control and safety investigations — to name a few,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Elections have consequences, and with this legislation, we now have an avenue where many matters that are important to us can be resolved.”

What follows is a recap of some of the provisions within the bill most important to SMART-TD members:

Amtrak

  • The bill triples funding for Amtrak to $32 billion, allowing for enhanced service, ADA upgrades, and investments to renew and support service on the Northeast Corridor and long-distance and state-supported routes.

Bus

  • Creates a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) training center modeled on the successful National Transit Institute, but with a frontline employee mandate to focus on training for new technologies, safety and emergency preparedness.
  • Expands FTA’s safety plan to include a focus on passenger and personnel injuries, assaults, and fatalities; a risk management process to address transit worker assaults; a joint labor/management safety committee empowered to approve the safety plan; and a comprehensive frontline workforce training program on safety and de-escalation.
  • Prevents a transit agency from deploying an automated vehicle that duplicates, eliminates, or reduces the frequency of existing public transportation service or a mobility on demand service. Transit agencies considering transit automated vehicles and mobility on demand service are required to develop a workforce development plan describing how the automated vehicle will affect transit workers. Ensures transit workers are given fair notice if their job is jeopardized by a transit automated vehicle or mobility on demand service.
  • Authorizes FTA research on redesigning bus driver compartments to improve driver visibility, expand driver functionality, and reduce driver assault.
  • Directs the Transportation secretary to review the costs and benefits of requiring lap/shoulder belts in large school buses and to consider requiring seat belts in newly manufactured school buses. Requires newly manufactured school buses to be equipped with automatic emergency braking and electronic stability control systems. Directs the secretary to conduct research and testing on fire prevention and mitigation standards—including firewalls, fire suppression systems, and interior flammability and smoke emissions characteristics—for large school buses and consider issuing updated standards.

Freight rail

  • Requires the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) rescind any special permit or approval for the transport of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail tank car issued before the date of enactment. Also prohibits DOT regulations on the transport of LNG by rail tank car from taking effect until DOT conducts a further safety evaluation. Directs the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to initiate an evaluation of the safety, security, and environmental risks of transporting LNG by rail.
  • Improves rail safety by addressing highway-rail grade crossing needs.
  • Requires a study on the effects of long trains.
  • Requires FRA to increase its roster of rail safety inspectors by 20 percent.
  • Requires FRA to collect data on train length and crew size when an accident occurs.
  • Requires the creation of a standardized FRA safety investigation process.
  • Requires FRA to engage in a public process before granting waivers from, or suspensions of, railroad safety standards and regulations.
  • Creates a federal blocked crossing program to collect data and enforce a 10-minute blocked crossing limit.
  • Has a two-person crew freight train mandate that, like the 2020 bill, has some exemptions for short lines and train length. These are:
    • The train operations are not on a main line.
    • The train does not exceed a maximum speed of 25 mph on territory with an average track grade of less than 2% for any segment of track that is at least two continuous miles.
    • The locomotives are performing assistance to a train that has incurred mechanical failure or lacks the power to traverse difficult terrain, including to or from the location where assistance is provided.
    • The locomotives are not attached to any equipment (except a caboose) and do not travel further than 30 miles from a rail yard.
    • A location where one-person operations were being utilized one year prior to the date of enactment of this bill, only if the DOT Secretary determines that the operation achieves an equivalent level of safety.

    Short-line exception
    In addition to the above, a train may be operated with a reduced crew, if the carrier has fewer than 400,000 total employee work hours annually and an annual revenue of less than $20,000,000.

    A train must be operated by a two-person crew (no exception), if:

    • It is transporting one or more loaded cares carrying material toxic by inhalation.
    • It is carrying 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block.
    • It has 35 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 2 material or a Class 3 flammable liquid throughout its consist.
    • It is 7,500 feet in length or longer.
  • Has a cross-border provision for the southern border of the U.S.
  • Makes yardmaster employees subject to FRA’s hours of service protections.
  • Directs the FRA to take such actions as are necessary to ensure that certain older air brake control valves are phased out on rail cars operating in cold regions of the United States, an issue brought to light by SMART-TD leadership in 2019.
  • Directs the DOT to require railroad carriers to regularly report on failures of positive train control (PTC) systems.
  • Directs the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule on fatigue management plans within one year.

Transit

  • Establishes a working group to improve the musculoskeletal health of transit and commercial vehicle drivers by developing stronger ergonomic seating standards in transit and commercial vehicles. Requires the working group to compare design standards for women to those for men.
  • Provides funding for corridor planning and development of high-speed rail projects, reducing traffic congestion and shortening travel times.
  • Requires passenger and commuter railroad carriers to implement response plans and employee training in order to address assaults against both passengers and employees. The section also requires railroads to report annual assault data to FRA.

The bill is scheduled to be marked up by the U.S. House on June 9.

Read a section-by-section summary of the 2021 INVEST in America Act. (PDF)
Read the bill. (PDF)
Read a fact sheet about the bill. (PDF)

SMART-TD Leaders Pledge Support to 2021 INVEST in America Act

CLEVELAND, Ohio (June 4, 2021) – Leaders of the SMART Transportation Division today announced their full support of the 2021 version of the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act.

DeFazio

The transformational $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill introduced today by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio of Oregon contains critical safety reforms for the bus, transit and freight rail industries. Similar to a 2020 version of the bill, provisions of the legislation mandate two-person freight rail crews and take steps to address the problems of bus operator and transit worker assault as well as other issues faced by SMART-TD’s bus, rail and transit members.

“Chairman DeFazio, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Donald Payne once again proved that they are receptive to the safety of and the needs of all SMART Transportation Division members,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Every one of our members has a stake in this bill and in the protections and actions this legislation puts forth. We are thankful for the representatives’ work, and we support this effort to move the transportation industry ahead.”

“This bill is all-encompassing — seeking redesigns of bus operator compartments so that drivers are more protected, protecting transit workers from assault and looking into school bus safety. The representatives also heard our voices regarding almost every one of the concerns we have about the current state of the railroad industry — crew size, train length, the utility of Positive Train Control and safety investigations — to name a few,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “Elections have consequences, and with this legislation, we now have an avenue where many matters that are important to us can be resolved.”

A markup of the bill is scheduled to take place June 9.

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.

VICE article explains the dangers of PSR

Members and leaders of the SMART Transportation Division as well as the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, spelled out why U.S. freight railroads’ obsession with Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) increases the danger to the public and railroad workers alike.

Journalist Aaron Gordon spoke with TD President Jeremy Ferguson and AFL-CIO TTD President Greg Regan about degradation in the safety culture of freight railroads because of PSR in an in-depth article published on March 22. “It’s going to end up like Boeing,” President Ferguson warned.

Gordon’s article touched upon many topics that our members are unfortunately already well aware of, including: the severe reduction of rail employees which has greatly impacted safe operations, the increase of fatigue associated with the same demanding work but with a reduced work force, the practice of railroads to have inspectors spend less time inspecting cars, the deferral of needed maintenance and potential safety issues being glossed over so that dwell time is not increased. It paints a very realistic and clear picture of how the railroads’ operating ratios and profits have been placed well ahead of safety and all in the name of PSR.

But by questing for those increased returns on Wall Street, the lessons learned from past operational mistakes could conceivably end up costing railroads in the long run, subjects interviewed in the article say.

This article is essential reading, and it can be found on the VICE website.

SMART-TD, BLET announce launch of Information and Communications Technology survey

CLEVELAND, Ohio, (May 20) — The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe), in partnership with the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), is launching a survey in mid-May to learn more about Information and Communications Technology (ICT), which relates to the technology and tools that railroaders use to share, gather and communicate information. The purpose of the survey is to understand how best to communicate important safety-related information to union members and across the railroad industry.

The ICT survey, approved by both SMART-TD and BLET leadership, is being sent to a randomly selected sample of active train, yard, and engine railroaders. Everyone included in this sample is strongly encouraged to respond.

“We support this effort because we believe it will help us to better serve our members. We are collaborating with the Volpe team to reach our members for this survey. Please make time to complete the ICT questionnaire if you receive it,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce explained.

Participation is voluntary and means only completing the questionnaire, which should take no more than 20 minutes. Unique codes for each questionnaire are assigned randomly to participants to keep responses strictly confidential.

Interested parties can learn more about the ICT Survey by contacting Dr. Heidi Howarth, the Volpe project lead, at heidi.howarth@dot.gov or 617-494-2522. This project is sponsored by the Office of Research, Development, and Technology of the Federal Railroad Administration.

# # #

The U.S. DOT established Volpe in 1970 to serve as a federal resource positioned to provide world-renowned, multidisciplinary, multimodal transportation expertise on behalf of U.S. DOT’s operating administrations, the Office of the Secretary, and external organizations.

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 leaders demand clarification from FRA on waivers

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) President Dennis Pierce sought clarification today from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) after the agency granted 60-day emergency waiver requests to railroads on March 25, ostensibly to maintain their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As you are already aware, SMART Transportation Division, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and other rail labor Organizations take strong exception to certain aspects of FRA’s seemingly absolute and unconditional approval of such requests,” the presidents wrote in a letter to Administrator Ron Batory. “We find the sweeping nature of these approvals alarming, especially in view of the fact that the rules waived are written with the safety of our members, and the general public, in mind.

“Notwithstanding the unfounded nature of some of the carriers’ claims in their applications, our immediate concerns are founded in our firm belief that if the carriers understand and apply FRA’s waiver to be carte blanche invitation to ignore rules, it will have a substantial chilling effect on safety.”

The waivers, granted by Batory and signed by Karl Alexy, associate administrator for railroad safety for FRA, were held for a number of days by the agency, which limited the ability of labor organizations to comment and seek a public hearing.

Meanwhile, an emergency order request sought by SMART-TD and the BLET seeking sanitation of areas frequented by frontline rail workers through the course of performing their “essential” duties remains under consideration on the desks of FRA officials.

The waivers grant the Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) and American Public Transportation Association (APTA) as well as other railroad entities the ability to temporarily circumvent established federally mandated requirements for:

  • Track inspection
  • Operational tests and inspections
  • Restrictions on utility employees
  • Locomotive and conductor certifications
  • Territorial qualifications

The reason cited by carriers in their petition was to cope with potential workforce shortages the railroads may experience during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Petitioners assert that a reduction in availability of employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic will affect railroads’ ability to keep freight trains carrying critical goods and materials necessary for the country’s welfare operating during this emergency, and that compliance with all Federal railroad safety regulations, with the expected workforce shortage, would significantly hinder railroads’ ability to operate,” the FRA said in its response granting the waivers.

But thanks in part to their adoption of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practices since 2017, the total employee headcount for Class I freight carriers – including administration/management, maintenance and transportation crew, as reported by the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), has been axed by roughly 14,000 people in 2019 and by 33,000 since 2000.

STB says that in February 2020 that Class Is had 56,767 transportation crew employees, down from a three-year peak of 68,980 in November 2018.

“There is also a concern that the carriers would use the excuse of a ‘downturn in business’ to artificially create a shortage of manpower to exploit the use of the waivers,” Ferguson and Pierce wrote.

Numbers provided to the union show that approximately 15 percent of T&E personnel are furloughed at the time. SMART-TD leader also have knowledge that carriers recently contacted the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) in anticipation of offering voluntary furloughs to employees during the pandemic, which incidentally would make the employee ineligible for RRB unemployment benefits.

Among the most-dangerous aspects of this set of waivers is carriers being permitted to allow employees who are unqualified in the territory and uncertified to operate trains as long as Positive Train Control (PTC) technology is present and engaged.

The federally mandated deadline for full PTC implementation is Jan. 1, 2021, and full interoperability among railroads has not been achieved, yet these waivers make the assumption that PTC functionality is sufficient to allow for unqualified crew members to operate over America’s railroads.

The union has received numerous reports of the technology not working as intended and top FRA leadership has indicated in a conversation that PTC was in a “shakedown” phase.

Information provided by the railroads in December 2019 to FRA reported Class I PTC system interoperability at 48 percent.

The FRA waivers of regulations also allow for:

  • Verbal quick tie-ups
  • Shortened time intervals for required locomotive maintenance and inspections
  • The movement of defective equipment to the “nearest available” repair location
  • 95% operative brakes to be permissible for trains leaving their initial terminal
  • Trains can travel 1,200 miles without an intermediate Class IA brake inspection
  • Extended haul trains can travel 2,000 miles without an intermediate Class IA brake test
  • The four-hour off-air time is extended to 24 hours and 48 hours with FRA permission
  • Transfer test requirements are relaxed
  • The ability to combine two operating trains without additional inspections other than a Class III brake test
  • Relaxation of yard air source testing and calibration requirements and of requirements for single-care air brake tests
  • Relaxation of required testing and calibration of telemetry equipment

“These regulations were written with the public’s safety in mind,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “A number of these waivers are not in the interest of safety and could be creating a recipe for disaster to rail workers and for the public.”

If particular properties do not have a demonstrated reduction of personnel directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, illness or self-quarantine, and these waivers are being employed, members are asked to report it to union leadership immediately.

Read the unions’ letter to FRA.

Read FRA’s letter that grant the waivers to the railroads.

Local 464 S&T saves teen near tracks in Oklahoma

The secretary & treasurer of SMART-TD Local 464 (Arkansas City, Kan.) rendered medical assistance to a teen who was found bleeding from a head wound on the side of the tracks in mid-February, saving the boy’s life.

Jason Schwartz, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom during the battle of Fallujah in November 2003 and a TD member since 2006, described the situation:

“Today I was faced with a decision that ultimately changed the outcome for a 16-year-old kid.

“I was called out of Oklahoma City and took a train north to Arkansas City. At 1705, a southbound Z-train dialed up the emergency tone for DS-21 and advised they may have seen a kid/body on the right of way of the main line, and he looked to be dead.

“I was stopped in the siding meeting the Z-train, and without hesitation I donned my gear and headed to the location where the body was said to be. I took to foot and walked … to check on what the Z-train was reporting.

“When I got 30 yards away from the body, I called out, ‘Hey boy, hey buddy, I’m here to help!’ I didn’t know if the person was dead or alive, but I still wanted to announce I was there just in case the person was in a mad state of mind. I got about 10 yards away and saw the kid was still breathing and radioed, ‘We need an ambulance asap, he’s still alive,’ I opened my phone to take a video to show he was alive when I arrived in case he died in between the time I found him and when paramedics arrived.

“I gave the kid my Carhartt coat to reduce the risk of shock and hypothermia and help talk to the kid to keep him conscious. The kid had a major blow to the center of his forehead where it appeared he went headfirst into the spike and rail, maybe causing a skull fracture, and mangled his face up pretty bad.

“He lost lots of blood but was conscious to answer a few questions,” Schwartz said. “It was hard to make out what he was saying due to the blood coming from a 1.5-inch gash in his mouth.”

Paramedics arrived and Schwartz helped to bandage the teen’s head wound and to carry him out to where the boy would eventually be airlifted to Oklahoma University Medical Center for treatment. A sheriff’s deputy reported to management
that the actions of Schwartz, who is also his local’s legislative representative and GCA-020 secretary, were considered to be life-saving.

“The sheriff deputy told the road foreman that I went ‘above and beyond,’ but I would have done it for anybody,” Schwartz said later in a phone interview.

A big factor was the mindset he gained from his nine years in the Marines — “seek and save” — didn’t allow him to be passive when the situation presented itself, Schwartz said.

That’s why he walked a mile and a half to the site, focused on stopping the boy’s bleeding and sacrificed his coat to stave off shock for the victim.

“My Marine Corps instinct was there to get up and help,” he said. “If I’m in a position to help, it was just first nature.”

Schwartz visited the teen, who apparently had fallen from a train he had jumped on, in the hospital. Schwartz, familiar with the stretch where he found the teen, said the train could have been going as fast as 50 mph. The teen had a broken nose, fractured cheekbone and went through surgery to have a titanium plate inserted to help stabilize his head injuries with additional surgeries slated for jaw and dental repair, Schwartz said.

The conductor later received a letter from the teen’s adopted mother and biological sister thanking him for his life-saving aid.

“They were very, very thankful, and let me know that he was doing well,” Schwartz said. “This easily could’ve been the worst-case scenario.”

The teen’s position close to the tracks where Schwartz found him put him in jeopardy of getting hit by a passing train, and a video of the scene taken by Schwartz shows that the teen collapsed on the ballast.

“For all the thousands in technology, not one penny of it would have detected that person next to the tracks,” Schwartz said. “He was inches away from the cattle guard on the leading unit. He could have been
struck by the step rungs … PTC is signal-to-signal. There’s nothing there to warn the crew of an object on or near the tracks.”

Here’s a little reminder …

The incident earlier this month in which a two-person crew helped to save a 5-year-old girl in his state reminded SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy of a letter his state’s legislative board submitted in 2018 in response to a federal Department of Transportation request for comment about autonomous rail operations.

Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy

After a discussion he said he had last summer with FRA Administrator Ron Batory, Qualy said he had reason to believe that his communication over the safety a two-person freight rail crew provides might have been overlooked by the DOT and Batory and his agency. After all, there were about 1,545 comments in favor of the FRA establishing a two-person crew rule that were outweighed in the agency’s eyes by the 39 comments in favor of the May 2019 withdrawal of the proposed rule.

“This was a good letter that our members should read and be aware of,” Qualy said. “This spells out the essential argument of why having two people on the crew is important.”

In the letter, Qualy reminds Batory that technology does not always reduce the tasks involved in operating a train, citing crew duties such as:

  • Throwing manual switches and dual control switches, coupling cars, coupling air-hoses, setting hand brakes, pulling pin­ lifters to switch cars, replacing failed hoses, gaskets, replacing couplers, mechanical and air-brake inspections remain constant work tasks of any operation. Any ATT, PTC, and/or aerial drone cannot do these train tasks.
  • When ATT and PTC programs fail en route, standing or delayed trains must not be permitted to block public roadways as a practice. The uncoupling of a standing train to open a grade crossing to allow vehicles to pass requires two persons.
  • After grade crossing collisions with the public, immediate Samaritan response to help the injured is an essential and moral responsibility within the fabric of our society. Two persons on all trains are necessary to assist the public after grade-crossing and other accidents.

“The railroad carriers and their associations claim two persons will not be necessary on trains with ATT and/ or PTC,” Qualy wrote. “These technological control features have nothing to do with the necessary and essential tasks of the train-machine behind or ahead of the locomotives.”

The Feb. 1 incident in East St. Paul, Minn., in which a missing girl was found by a two-person train crew after they alertly stopped and provided aid is a perfect example of why two sets of eyes are needed in the cab.

“Railroad carriers have a moral responsibility to provide for the right of Samaritan response,” Qualy wrote in his letter.

The questions need to be asked. Would the girl have been seen if it were a one-person operation that night? Would the sensors of an autonomous train have detected her, stopped the train and invited her into the cab of the locomotive for warmth and protection and then contacted authorities so she could be reunited with her worried family?

Here’s a little reminder that some on the railroad believe in moral responsibility over innovation.

Read SLD Qualy’s letter.

Conductor, engineer rescue wandering 5-year-old girl in Minnesota

The efforts of a two-person crew in East St. Paul, Minn., helped to save a wandering five-year-old girl and reunite her with her family.

Near midnight Saturday, Feb. 1, SMART Transportation Division Local 1293 member Jarrod Campbell and BLET member Angela Knutson were operating a Union Pacific train through East St. Paul when they spotted something unusual alongside the tracks.

The shape looked strange to them, so Knutson stopped the train, and Campbell grabbed his lantern and left the cab to investigate.

Walking back, he discovered a five-year-old girl wearing a light jacket. She wasn’t wearing a hat or mittens and her sneakers were filled with snow.

“I introduced myself to her,” Campbell said. “She said that her name was Zoey and that she was cold and wanted her mom.”

The conductor out of the Altoona, Wis., local picked Zoey up and asked her if she would want to come into the locomotive where it was warm so she could meet Angela.

“She gave me a big hug and said thank you,” Campbell said.

Campbell carried Zoey through the snow and they went into the cab. There Campbell and Knutson comforted her by wrapping her in Campbell’s coat, giving her a spare pair of Knutson’s socks, using hand warmers to stave off the early signs of hypothermia and keeping her calm until EMS crews could arrive.

She had been reported missing to police about 45 minutes to a half-hour before the crew found her, Campbell later learned. The temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and he said there was still eight to 10 inches of snow on the ground there.

The combined efforts of both crewmembers saved the girl from a possibly life-threatening situation at a time when rail carriers are looking to cut the conductor position from the cab in favor of technologies such as Positive Train Control. The carriers and Federal Railroad Administration argue that no data exists proving that a two-person crew is any safer than a single-person crew.

Zoey’s family would probably differ on that.

“It’s just miraculous that we were able to see her or find her,” Campbell said. “It sure wasn’t Positive Train Control that stopped and saved this girl.”

Both Campbell and Knutson told the story of the girl’s rescue to the Fox 9 television station in Minneapolis-St. Paul and brought a teddy bear to share with the girl.

“Let her know that we’re glad she’s doing good,” Campbell told reporter Christina Palladino.

Alt. VP Scott Chelette speaks on two-person crews

SMART Transportation Division Alternate Vice President J. Scott Chelette, general chairperson of GO 927, was featured in a television news report about the rail industry’s intention to eliminate the conductor from the cab of freight trains in the wake of Class I freight carriers implementing Positive Train Control (PTC).

Chelette was featured alongside West, Texas, Police Chief Darryl Barton on the report, broadcast Jan. 30 on KWTX-TV in Waco, Texas.

“The industry wants to take it a step further and thinks that because they have Positive Train Control that we don’t need a conductor on the locomotive anymore. That’s not the case,” Chelette said. “It’s just a failsafe. It’s just like your vehicle having an alert system.”

Our members know that PTC is not a cure-all and that its operational performance has been sporadic. If technology such as PTC impedes your ability to operate a train, then a Technology Event Report should be filed with SMART-TD.

Video of Chelette’s appearance is available above. The entire article from KWTX can be read on the station’s website.

FRA’s own report blows hole in arguments against two-person freight crews

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in a 41-page report released Jan. 13th by its Office of Research, Development and Technology said what railroaders already know.

Researchers at the Volpe Center over a period of years performed cognitive task analyses (CTAs) that examined the mental demands placed on rail workers, including operating personnel, as they engaged with technology and performed their jobs.

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson

“Results from the locomotive engineer and conductor CTAs indicate that train crews, a primary example of an elemental team in railroad operations, exhibit characteristics of high performing teams that are found across industries,” the report said. “These include mutual performance monitoring — to catch and correct errors — and active support of each other’s activities.”

“These teamwork activities went beyond the requirements of formal operating rules and were not explicitly covered in training,” the report states.

The Volpe Center has even received accolades from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao herself, who praised its work at enabling safety and innovation for the nation in regard to transportation and infrastructure during the center’s groundbreaking in Oct. 2019.

“It has worked to reduce rail-grade crossing accidents, improve vehicle safety, and better manage the airspace…. The Volpe Center continues to provide important contributions to our national transportation system. Especially now, when we have entered a historic period of transportation innovation that promises to boost economic growth and improve quality of life. These innovations are occurring in all modes of transportation, including roads, rail, maritime, and aerospace…. All these innovations are exciting, but they can be disruptive. This is where Volpe’s contribution plays an important role. Volpe’s data and analysis provides trustworthy information that helps us distinguish between ‘High’ and ‘Hype’ performance innovations. Volpe’s data helps build confidence among stakeholders, including the public whose acceptance is critical to realizing the potential of ground-breaking innovations.”

So, when a facility respected for its research of transportation issues provides evidence in an FRA report saying that cooperative efforts and communications exhibited by the two operating crew members help keep railroad operations safe beyond the baseline training that every rail worker receives upon hire, it blows a hole in the argument that “rail safety data does not support a train crew staffing rulemaking” from FRA Administrator Ron Batory last May in withdrawing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on two-person crews.

There’s the old saying that “two heads are better than one.” Railroaders live this life, especially when coping with the unimaginable fatigue being an over-the-road crewmember brings. The ability of two people to work together and their collected experience helps them to react to unexpected and potentially dangerous situations as they happen, preserving the safety of the crew and others while crossing the country.

Earlier research from the Volpe Center released in December 2013 also proves this:

“The locomotive engineer and conductor function as a joint cognitive system, meaning that conductors and locomotive engineers jointly contribute to the set of cognitive activities required to operate the train safely and efficiently.”

“While each crew member has a distinct set of formal responsibilities, in practice they operate as an integrated team, contributing knowledge and backing each other up as necessary.”

“When operating on the mainline conductors not only serve as a ‘second pair of eyes’, alerting the locomotive engineer to upcoming signals and potential hazards (e.g., activity at grade crossings; people working on or around the track), they also contribute knowledge and decision-making judgment.”

“Conductors also serve an important, redundant check and backup role, reminding locomotive engineers of upcoming work zones and speed restrictions.”

“If necessary, they will also handle unanticipated situations and activate the emergency brake, in cases where the locomotive engineer has not responded quickly enough.”

“Conductors have developed a variety of skills and strategies that enable them to handle non-routine situations safely and efficiently.”

But whether FRA’s Batory and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) continue to cling to this argument that keeping two people on the train crew has no effect on the safe operation of railroads in America when FRA research reports and plain common sense say the opposite is anybody’s guess.

They’re fighting tooth-and-nail in court against keeping two people on freight rail crews when laws passed by seven states and public opinion have expressed that a reduction in crew size would add risk and danger to an industry that hauls hazardous and nuclear materials through our cities, suburban neighborhoods and rural areas alike.

It truly is puzzling. Both AAR and Batory’s agency tout safe operations as a primary goal on their websites, and they praise the efforts of railroad workers in keeping operations safe in public testimony. Then they simultaneously argue in court and in state legislatures against keeping those personnel working on America’s railroads because maintaining two on the crew might crack some fragile egg of future technological advancement.

By the way, Volpe research says Positive Train Control (PTC), will not provide all of the cognitive support functions the conductor currently provides to the locomotive engineer.

Technology does not need to be approached with the final goal of slashing a workforce to save costs and thus fill the pockets of those at the top in the form of higher share prices and lower operating ratios. The FRA Office of Research, Development and Technology report even suggests that new technologies can be layered atop current personnel configurations that carriers operate under, and that approach would make sense from a workers’ safety and public safety standpoint.

Technological advances will not deliver first aid to the person whose vehicle has been struck by a train and is trapped and injured after an accident at a rail crossing. Technological advances will not perform CPR on the co-worker in the cab who suffers a medical event while the train is being operated. Technological advances will not physically assist a co-worker in evacuating when a locomotive has derailed into a river.

That people have survived the above scenarios that have occurred on the nation’s railroads are examples of safe operation as well. Unexpected events and calamities do happen. But definitive data aren’t kept by the FRA or the railroads about accidents that are prevented by worker intervention or assistance that is provided. How can you really track what might have happened if the incident is avoided?

What we can look at what is in the here and now. The level of worker and public safety that the railroad industry has achieved is a result of the collaboration of engineers and conductors and all other employees out in the field. Yes, there are still fatalities — our union lost three members in 2019 — and safety performance can still be improved by adding technology without a further reduction of on-train personnel.

FRA’s research on rail worker teamwork, made and released by the agency in charge of regulating the nation’s railroads and performed by the Volpe Center, indicates cutting the in-cab crew to one person for the sake of profitability (the railroads continue to make billions, even with rail traffic down) jeopardizes the status quo of safe rail operations. If you ask the AAR, they’ll tell you that working on the railroad these days is safer than working at a grocery store.

So with rail carriers being profitable and safe and two on the crew, it looks like America’s railroad workers must be doing something right.

The full FRA report, “Teamwork in Railroad Operations and Implications for New Technology,” is available here.

Jeremy R. Ferguson,
President, Transportation Division

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.

More testimony needed in a fifth hearing on Ohio rail safety bill H.B. 186

State Legislative Director Stu Gardner reports that an additional round of testimony has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, in House Hearing Room 114 in the Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square in Columbus, regarding H.B. 186, a comprehensive railroad safety bill under consideration in the state’s House of Representatives.

Only proponents of the bill who have not given testimony previously are eligible to state their case for this important legislation that will protect lives and preserve the safety of railroad operations in Ohio.

“Testimony is to be given by those persons (or groups) that have not testified on H.B. 186 previously,” Gardner said. “I am requesting that if you have not given testimony previously, or wish to add new testimony that you have not given before on H.B. 186, now is the time to do so.”

Gardner, rail safety legal expert Larry Mann, members of the Ohio State Legislative Board, SMART-TD members and representatives from the BLET have provided testimony in favor of this legislation, which covers the following safety issues:

  • Two-person freight train crews
  • Proper walkways in railroad yard safety legislation
  • Railroad yard lighting safety legislation
  • Blocked crossings

In an email to members, Gardner indicated that the rail carriers requested a fifth hearing (Ohio bills typically receive three committee hearings before being voted upon for advancement to the full state House) due to Mann’s strong proponent testimony delivered Nov. 19.

However, more TD members and others concerned about railroad safety need to step up and be heard, and this fifth hearing could be the last chance to convince representatives that H.B. 186 deserves passage.

“It is up to all of our advocates of the Ohio State Legislative Board and the SMART Transportation Division to step up and let these committee members hear the truth one more time,” Gardner said. “Please come and fill the hearing room, give testimony and show these representatives what we are made of.”

The bill is sponsored by Ohio Reps. Mike Sheehy, a retired rail worker and member of the SMART TD Alumni Association, and Brent Hillyer.

Proponent testimony must be provided to Matthew Taylor in Committee Chairman Doug Green’s office (Matthew.Taylor@ohiohouse.gov.) with the deadline for electronic submission of both written and in-person testimony and a witness slip being 3 p.m. Dec. 9, the Monday before the hearing. On the day of the hearing, witnesses have the option of presenting their testimony in person before the committee if they have submitted the testimony and required witness slip by the deadline.

Instructions for those wishing to testify before the committee:

Prior to committee:

  • The House Transportation and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday mornings at 11 a.m. in House Hearing Room 114 in the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
  • Testimony is to be electronically submitted to the chairman’s office by 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.
  • A witness slip (fillable PDF) is to be completed prior to the committee meeting and should also be submitted electronically to the chairman’s office.
  • Testimony and the witness slip can be submitted at the same time and there is no need to send multiple emails.
  • Materials may be submitted to Matthew Taylor in Green’s Office at (Matthew.Taylor@ohiohouse.gov.)

Day of committee:

  • Folks may arrive any time before the committee hearing begins.
  • There is no need to check in with staff so long as testimony was submitted properly.
  • Attendees may take a seat in the audience.
  • As committee begins, the chairman will announce the hearing of bills. As testimony begins on H.B. 186, the chairman will call each individual up by the name submitted on the witness slip.
  • After testimony has been given, the individual may remain in the committee room for the duration of the hearing.

Instructions for those wishing to submit written-only testimony:

  • Written-only testimony is for those who may not be able to attend the committee hearing to testify in person, or for those who may want to attend committee but do not wish to verbally testify.

Written-only testimony:

  • Testimony is to be electronically submitted to the Chairman’s Office by 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, the day before the scheduled hearing.
  • The witness slip is to be completed prior to the committee hearing and should also be submitted electronically to the Chairman’s Office.
  • Testimony and the witness slip can be submitted at the same time, and there is no need to send multiple emails.
  • Materials may be submitted to Matthew Taylor in Chairman Doug Green’s Office at (Matthew.Taylor@ohiohouse.gov.)