Archive for the ‘Safety Alert’ Category

SMART-TD National Safety Team gets new director

As the SMART-TD restructures to better serve our membership, the National Safety Team (NST) now has a new director. SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity (Local 1377 in Russell, Ky.) has taken over as director for SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson (Local 313 in Grand Rapids, Mich.).

“I have the utmost faith that Jared has the knowledge, experience and passion to lead this team,” Gibson said.

Jared Cassity

No stranger to the NST, Cassity joined the team in 2014 and served as an alternate director from 2016 to 2019. He has also served on the CSX Safety Model Executive Board.

Cassity started his railroad career with CSX in September 2005 and was promoted to engineer in 2008. He has held numerous positions within the union, including vice local chairperson, secretary and treasurer, legislative representative, local chairperson, assistant general chairperson, Kentucky state legislative director and alternate national legislative director.

“Safety is our priority, as it should be, but unfortunately we work in an industry that prioritizes profit before anything else. So, we must be vigilant to not just watch out for ourselves, but also to protect the backs of our brothers and sisters,” Cassity said. “As a union, we cannot let down our guard, and I pledge to maintain the necessary level of dedication and aggression that this job requires to get the job done.

“Our goal is simple: ‘to get you home the same way you came to work.’ I know that is an old saying, but it’s true. The safety of our brothers and sisters is worth fighting for, and the NST will do just that. Lastly, I would like to thank Brother Jerry for all the years he has dedicated to this team. What a difference for the better he has made.”

Jerry Gibson

Brother Gibson hired out in 1996 as a conductor for CSX. In 1998, he was voted as terminal safety chairperson, serving in that position until 2000. That same year, he assisted with the formation of a new safety process and authored what became the UTU/CSX Safety Program in February 2000. He also led the training of safety coordinators on CSX and was responsible for employee safety, unsafe condition and procedure correction, accident investigation and prevention. He’s also served the union by presenting safety and legislative courses at regional meetings.

A nationally recognized safety expert, Gibson has met with authorities from all federal and state executive and legislative branches and has provided testimony and information in regard to railroad-related issues pertaining to safety and job retention. He has been a co-director of the NST since 2013. Although stepping down as co-director, Gibson will remain acutely engaged to consult on safety matters.

“Safety has always been a passion of mine and something I worked diligently to improve my entire railroad career. I have always believed that, as a fraternal organization, the safety of our fellow brothers and sisters must top all other priorities as one loss or injury is one too many. I know with the leadership and commitment to safety President Ferguson and General President Sellers have, and the skills and ability Jared possesses, this team will receive the support it needs to be successful, therefore, the time was right to hand over the baton. While I am stepping back, I am not walking away and will always be a resource and advocate … willing to assist at any time,” Gibson said.

Click here to visit the SMART-TD National Safety Team webpage.

Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group issues alert

The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) Working Group issued an alert late last week in response to three rail fatalities that have occurred since early March.

Two of those incidents resulted in the loss of life of SMART-TD members — Taj Ellis and Buddy L. Strieker — and occurred during shove movements.

The third incident occurred on Pan-Am Railways in Newington, N.H., on May 19 when a worker was fatally injured while attempting a coupling on a curve.

“While these recent cases have not yet been analyzed, the SOFA Working Group is concerned by the three fatalities that have already occurred during 2021 and reminds all employees to remain vigilant during switching operations by not only protecting shove movements, but also protecting themselves by avoiding close or no clearance hazards. Last, but not least, remember to hold a job briefing whenever the job or situation changes,” the group said in its alert.

A flyer of the alert to print and share is available.

Hazardous Materials Training Program to offer online courses in April

In April, the Hazardous Materials Training Program is planning to host three courses virtually:

  1. Disaster Recovery/Response Course (2 hours)
  2. COVID-19 and Infectious Disease Response Awareness Training Course (90 minutes)
  3. DOT Hazardous Materials Awareness Course (8 hours over two days)

The Disaster Response Recovery course is training for workers and community members who live and work in areas that are likely to be impacted by a hurricane. The course satisfies the requirements to assist workers and communities in recovery from natural and man-made disasters. The class will be conducted April 7, 2021, and April 9, 2021, at noon ET on both days.

The COVID-19 and Infectious Disease Response Awareness Training course is designed to increase workers’ knowledge of hazards they may encounter on a job site related to potential occupational exposures to SARS CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. During this 90-minute course, attendees will learn what SARS-CoV-2 is, how it is spread, symptoms, how to protect workers, how to properly clean and disinfect your work area and about vaccinations for COVID-19. The online virtual training will include breakout groups, exercises and demonstrations. This course will be April 16 and April 23, 2021, at 2 p.m. ET on both days.

The DOT Hazardous Materials Awareness course, also called the Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety and Security Course, provides safety and security awareness training that is required by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for hazmat transportation workers. This course also provides OSHA first responder – awareness-level training. The course is intended for railroad workers who are involved in the transportation of hazmat and who may be the first on the scene or the first to witness a release of hazardous materials or be aware of a security threat. Various topics will be addressed during the 8-hour (4 hours per day) course held over two days such as the role of the first responder, federal regulatory agencies, DOT’s regulations on hazmat, recognizing and identifying hazmat in transportation and more (see flyer). The class is being offered April 19 – 20, 2021, and April 28 – 29, 2021, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET. An incentive of $175 is available to participants who complete this course.

Contact the Rail Workers Hazmat Training Program by calling 202-624-6963 (9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET Monday – Friday).

Click here for a flyer to hang at your workplace.

Click here to register.

The Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program is funded by a federal grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to provide hazmat training to rail workers.

The goal of this training initiative is to provide rail workers with the skills and knowledge necessary to protect themselves, the community, and the environment in a hazardous materials transportation emergency. To achieve this goal, the Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program provides rail workers, through quality hazardous materials training courses, the confidence in their knowledge and problem-solving skills to enable them to make change for safer work conditions.

Much of the training is provided by peer instructors who are full-time rail workers — members and/or local officers of affiliated rail unions.

Questions about TD Safety Condition Report answered

Shortly after the launch of SMART Transportation Division’s online Safety Condition Report, numerous reports have been successfully submitted and passed along to union leadership for handling. This information will help to make our properties safer and bring any conditions that add risk to our members to light.

Keep in mind – if your state or local leadership already has a successfully functioning safety hazard report system in place, please continue to use that reporting system. This report, which has been developed and instituted by the International, is not to supplant those systems. Instead, it is intended to be available as a reporting mechanism for those that do not already have a system in place or as a supplemental reporting mechanism.

As with all new initiatives, there is a period of adjustment and union leadership wanted to answer a few questions that have been raised.

1. Does the Safety Condition Report replace the filing of a report with my employer, carrier or with my State Legislative Director?

No. If your employer or carrier has a reporting process regarding unsafe conditions, you should fill out their report. Similarly, if your State Legislative Director prefers to use a safety reporting system already implemented, then we encourage that reporting system to be utilized.

Note: It is strongly encouraged that the proper carrier officer receives notification of any unsafe hazard, even if they do not have a process for reporting, if at all possible. Equally it is important that your Local Legislative Representative and officers receive a copy of anything reported to the carrier

2. Should I fill out this form if I have already reported a safety concern to my SLD or my Local Legislative Representative?

No. There is no need to duplicate your effort if you have already reached out to them, but also take note that a report via this form is not a substitute for a report filed with a carrier.

3. By using this report form does my information remain confidential from the carrier?

Yes. As this is an internal reporting system, this information is only available to those union officers that receive the form. That being said, the aforementioned officers may request, in certain circumstances, that this information be shared in order to properly address the reported unsafe issue. However, in those situations, the union officer should receive the reporting member’s permission prior to doing so.

4. Does my Local Legislative Representative get a copy of these reports?

The reports currently go directly to State Legislative Directors for proper handling and dissemination. They are also copied to the General Chairpersons for additional assistance. We found that the turnover of local officers might impede the efficiency of the automated portion of the system, so LRs are not contacted directly via this report. State Directors will take the lead and decide how to proceed with your safety concern, including contacting your local officer(s).

5. I have evidence (photos, video) of a potential safety hazard. How can I share it?

Please be sure that you have checked the option that you request an officer to contact you, and you can then share any evidence you have accumulated directly with the officer handling your report. Future versions of this form may allow for the upload of evidence as we continue to enhance it.

6. I’ve scrolled through the selections and can’t find what I want to report…

If you cannot find your specific issue or concern – use the “other” option and fill in the blanks. It would be helpful to select that you want to have an officer reach out so you can be precise in the type of hazard you wish to report as well as the specific location and details.

7. When can I expect a response to a report that I have filed?

If one is requested, timely responses from a union officer will be given in the order the reports are received.

8. How can I suggest refinements to the report?

We will be continually examining the utility of the form and seeking potential improvements. If you have suggestions, please send them to Senior Communications Coordinator Ben Nagy at

Remember — these are in-union reports. Your union exists to protect its members and filing any safety concern through any union-endorsed medium is your right.

“Your union’s leadership wants to raise our safety standards. The carriers will no longer be allowed to dictate our level of personal safety … enough is enough,” SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson said. “Only when we, as a collective group, choose to properly address our issues and concerns can we expect others to comply with those demands. It is the charge of the carrier to provide us with the proper training, security and safe work environment while doing so … and we will hold them accountable.”

Rail members, please note: The Railroad Technology Event report remains as a separate reporting mechanism due to the amount of detail and complexities that topic requires.

SMART-TD Safety Condition Report is launched for members to submit info about unsafe conditions

To address the growing safety concerns of our membership, we have implemented a universal Safety Condition Report that is now available on the SMART-TD website for all members to use.

This form will become the primary tool to report and collect data concerning unsafe working conditions, including COVID-19 issues, from all members. Organizational information such as Craft, Local, Carrier, State Legislative Director and General Committee are loaded based on a member’s selection using defined database values, ensuring an accurate submission so that the officers responsible for acting on the report are directly and timely informed.

Members are presented a default list of safety hazards (including COVID-19) to choose along with identifying the state and location of the unsafe condition. Additionally, the form will dynamically update based on the members’ input, creating a customized report. After submission, an automated email to the General Chairperson and State Legislative Director with jurisdiction is sent as an initial notification. Full details of the Safety Condition Report are then accessed by these officers via the TD Connect portal along with printing and exporting capabilities for further collaboration with Local officers so that the unsafe conditions can be addressed.

Rail members, please note: The Railroad Technology Event report remains as a separate reporting mechanism due to the amount of detail and complexities that topic requires.

It is important to note that the data collected by this Safety Condition Report and the information within are kept and used solely within our SMART Union computer system and are used by SMART-TD officers to assist in addressing the issues presented by members.

“Membership safety and well-being is a founding principal of this Union, but we cannot assist without being properly informed of the unsafe issues facing our fellow brothers and sisters.” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson stated. “These reports are to enhance our safety efforts as many carriers lack proper and effective reporting mechanisms. Our SMART Constitution lists safety as our local legislative representatives’ primary mission, stating ‘They shall report to their Locals regarding the handling of all alleged unsafe or unsanitary working conditions found to exist, or reported to them, within their jurisdiction. They shall undertake to correct such conditions through appropriate measures consistent with the local and national policies of the Transportation Division.’ Therefore, we ask that you also forward this information as soon as possible to your local legislative representative or other SMART Union officer for proper handling. If you are unsure who they are or how to contact them, please contact our office.

“It is imperative that we all accept the personal responsibility to properly document known unsafe conditions, acts and security concerns. If more people would take the time to do this we could, over time, address most of the long-standing concerns we have. Without documentation, nothing will ever change — the issues and concerns will continue to remain and often grow until a very unfortunate situation such as an injury, accident or fatality brings to light what many knew was a problem long ago but failed to address.”

The union’s chief of staff hopes that the use of this form brings hazards that have been taken for granted or tolerated by workers to light.

“Sadly, we hear one particular scenario too often,” SMART-TD Chief of Staff Jerry Gibson said. “Someone says, ‘That has been an issue for a long time’ or ‘Everyone knows that is a problem’ at a particular property. Yet everyone assumes that someone else has written the unsafe condition up and unfortunately, no one has. The issue remains and the carriers use that against us by stating the very same thing — ‘That has been like that forever, and no one has said anything or taken issue with it.’

“This online reporting process is here to change that. Your union’s leadership wants to raise our safety standards. The carriers will no longer be allowed to dictate our level of personal safety … enough is enough. Only when we, as a collective group, choose to properly address our issues and concerns can we expect others to comply with those demands. It is the charge of the carrier to provide us with the proper training, security and safe work environment while doing so … and we will hold them accountable.”

The Safety Condition Report is accessible directly from the SMART-TD home page as both a banner and as a menu item — look for the blinking yellow caution signal.

“Please assist us with assisting you,” President Ferguson said. “All of our members deserve safe working conditions on the job and to return home safely. If there is an issue you want to report — report it.”

SMART-TD leadership warns of FRA’s new brake rule, urges caution

December 18, 2020
Brothers and Sisters:

As we find ourselves amid what is historically the most dangerous season of the year, I must unfortunately caution you of new additional intensified dangers borne from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) most recent Final Rulemaking. On Friday, December 11, 2020, the FRA granted an extensive and exhaustive list of regulation changes, the vast majority of which served to lower the bar of safety and increase the profit margin for this nation’s rail carriers. This is evidenced in the no less than two dozen references of cost savings to the carriers as a result of this rulemaking. Not only has the FRA once again vacated its role as the country’s chief safety regulator, but it has also failed in its own mission statement, vision, and purpose.

As you are aware, a known unsafe condition exists with the DB-10 brake valves in cold weather conditions. In fact your Union, on December 15, 2019, petitioned the FRA to issue an Emergency Order that would prioritize safety over productivity by requiring the replacement of the defective valves and disallow the railroads’ attempts to apply stopgap procedures that only camouflage and exacerbate the seriousness of the situation. That petition was unfortunately denied by the FRA muzzling our request for the safest course of action.

Due to the FRA’s reckless action, rolling stock is now permitted to be off-air for 24 hours before requiring a new brake inspection. This means that the only true method of identifying the faulty brake valves has been reduced immeasurably, if not eliminated altogether on certain properties. As a result, the regularity of brake inspections has now been reduced to a fraction of the previous standard, and, thus defective brake valves will be permitted to remain in service longer and be more apt to adversely affect a train’s braking capabilities. Given the consequence of these faulty valves remaining in place is that they render a train’s emergency brake feature inoperative, I am asking all to please remain diligent in your daily duties and to take nothing for granted. This includes railroad workarounds designed to mask flawed brake valves like drawing the brake pipe pressure down to zero before making a separation. Should a carrier official ask you to perform such a task, please notify my office as soon as it is safe and proper to do so, so that we may address it with the carrier and applicable government agencies.

The railroads have historically had trouble maintaining an accurate record of when a train or car(s) initiates its “off air” status (and that was with the four-hour limit). I highly anticipate major complications regarding the determination of actual time off air when going on-duty or making a pick-up. If you feel as though you are being instructed to move equipment that has been off air greater than twenty-four hours, please report it to your supervisor and to my office. Do not be insubordinate, but also do not allow the instance to go unreported or undocumented. We will progress the report accordingly.

In addition to the time off-air regulation, the FRA has also made changes to regulations regarding single-car air brake tests, end-of-train devices, helper service, brake maintenance, additional brake-related items, utility employee duties, and various other rules and/or processes.

It is clear the intent of these changes was not to improve safety, but rather to widen the avenue in which railroads can operate without oversight or guidance – a devastating scenario we just experienced with the Boeing 737 Max. As such, please rest assured that our legal department is currently in the process of filing a formal appeal and petition of reconsideration to overturn this extremely dangerous and egregious action. However, until a recourse can be achieved, it is on all of us to have our brothers’ and sisters’ backs. It is clear that the FRA and carriers do not.

Fraternally yours,





Jeremy R. Ferguson
President – Transportation Division


Click here to view this letter as a PDF.

NTSB issues 6 safety recommendations following investigation of train derailment, hazardous materials release

NTSB investigators Ruben Payan (left) and Paul Stancil survey the scene of the Aug. 2, 2017, Hyndman, Pennsylvania, train derailment in this photo taken Aug. 4, 2017. © NTSB

WASHINGTON (Dec. 10, 2020) — The National Transportation Safety Board issued Rail Accident Report 20/04 Thursday for its investigation of the Aug. 2, 2017, CSX Transportation, Inc. freight train derailment and release of hazardous materials near Hyndman, Pennsylvania.

No injuries were reported in connection with the derailment of 33 of 178 rail cars but three homes were damaged and about 1,000 residents were within the 1-mile radius evacuation zone. CSX estimated damages at $1.8M.

The accident train consisted of five locomotives and 178 cars, 128 of which were loaded, and 50 rail cars were empty.

NTSB investigators determined the probable cause of the derailment was the inappropriate use of hand brakes on empty rail cars to control train speed, and the placement of blocks of empty rail cars at the front of the train consist. Investigators also determined CSX operating practices contributed to the derailment.

Safety issues addressed in the investigation include:

  • CSX operational practices for building train consists that allowed for excessive longitudinal and lateral forces to be exerted on empty cars
  • Use of hand brakes to control train movement
  • Assessment and response to fires involving jacketed rail tank cars

Based on its investigation the NTSB issued a total of six safety recommendations, including one to the Federal Railroad Administration, three to CSX, one to the Association of American Railroads and one to the Security and Emergency Response Training Center. The recommendations seek:

  • Guidance for railroads to use in developing required risk reduction programs
  • Revision of rules for building train consists
  • Prohibiting use of hand brakes on empty rails cars for controlling train movement in grade territory
  • Incorporation of the lessons learned from this derailment about fire-exposed jacketed pressure tank cars in first responder training programs

Rail Accident Report 20/04 is available online at and the docket for the investigation is available at

FRA issues final rule modernizing brake safety standards

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today issued a final rule, extending the amount of time freight rail equipment can be left off-air (meaning parked with its air brake system depressurized) before requiring a new brake inspection, which is expected to reduce the number of idling locomotives. The final rule incorporates longstanding waivers for brake inspections, tests and equipment, while clarifying existing regulations and removing outdated provisions.

These revisions contemporize Brake System Safety requirements by incorporating safer, newer technologies, reduce unnecessary costs and increase consistency between U.S. and Canadian regulations.

“Incorporating technologies and safety practices, this final rule improves freight rail efficiency and will make our freight rail system competitive for the future,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “Issuing waivers permitting railroads to test these practices gave us an opportunity to verify the safety benefits. Modernization no longer has to happen by waiver; it’s permanent, and the economic impact to freight rail couldn’t come at a more pressing time.”

Canada has allowed trains to be off air for 24 hours since 2008, and Canada’s operational safety data supports FRA’s action. FRA’s final rule permits trains to be off air for as long as 24 hours, bringing the U.S. in line with our neighbors to the north.

The regulatory cost savings is estimated to be over $500 million over the next decade, adding to the over $93 billion in regulatory savings accomplished under the leadership of Secretary Elaine L. Chao and the current administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

With this change, FRA estimates the industry will perform 110,000 fewer Class I brake inspections annually. The change reduces the cost and time needed for inspections while permitting more flexibility to turn off locomotives, which is expected to result in fewer locomotives idling in rail yards. FRA will continue to require a Class III brake inspection when adding freight cars to trains.

The final rule incorporates new technology to test brakes on each freight car, permitting two types of automated tests for individual freight cars. “In the more than four years since FRA began issuing waivers for this procedure, we’ve seen it used on more than 800,000 rail cars and have observed remarkable safety improvements,” Batory added.

Cars tested with an automated single car test device showed an 18% reduction in repeat freight car brake failures. Cars tested with the four pressure method showed a 58% reduction in repeat freight car brake failures. These demonstrated improvements permit FRA to increase the testing intervals for freight cars from one year to 24- or 48-month intervals, depending on the automated test method a railroad uses.

FRA is also changing the required height for end-of-train (EOT) marking device displays, reducing it from 48 inches to 40 inches above the top of the rail. This change will permit the manufacture and use of smaller and lighter EOT devices, making them easier and safer for rail workers to carry.

“Issuing test waivers allows our teams to set conditions for railroads to try new technologies,” Batory said. “We only approve waiver requests when we’re certain the changes maintain or improve safety. We’re confident that the changes outlined in this final rule will meet or exceed current safety standards while saving the industry money.”

This final rule addresses several technical issues. To learn more, click here to read the final rule on FRA’s website.

FRA’s SOFA issues safety alert

The FRA’s Switching Operations Fatality Analysis (SOFA) working group recently released two new documents — one on the importance of job briefings and the other a safety alert following three switching accidents that have occurred since August.

In the safety alert, SOFA warned, “the SOFA Working Group is concerned by the 159 injuries that occurred this year through August 31, 2020, and reminds all employees to remain vigilant during switching operations by not only protecting the shove movement, but also protecting themselves by avoiding close or no clearance hazards. Last, but not least, remember to always hold a job briefing whenever the job or situation changes.”

Click here to read the full safety alert. 

In their “SOFA Lifesavers – Why Job Brief?” notice, SOFA details the importance to perform job briefings and points out that one in five switching operations fatalities lacked an adequate job briefing.

Click here to read SOFA Lifesavers – Why Job Brief?

The Switching Operations Fatality Analysis working group was formed by the Federal Railroad Administration in the early 1990s in an effort to analyze switching accidents and prevent future accidents and fatalities. The group consists of representatives from the FRA, labor and management.

Click here to visit SMART-TD’s SOFA page where these and other SOFA documents are available.

SAFETY: The gift we give our families that should never be compromised

As president of the SMART Transportation Division and on behalf of General President Joseph Sellers, I want to wish every member happy holidays. We are all one family, and this season is a time when we have our loved ones in our thoughts and on our minds. As your president, your well-being, safety and job security are always on my mind, and I take those responsibilities seriously. Please know that I strive daily to make a difference in protecting you both on and off the job.

With the holiday season upon us, we owe it to ourselves and our families to keep the season joyous and free from needless sorrow. Safety is a gift we give our families each and every day, and nothing should be more important.

The twenty-four days between Dec. 22 and Jan. 14 have historically proven to be the deadliest for railroad workers. More fatalities and career-ending injuries occur during this calendar period than any other. Unfortunately, this rang true in 2018, when member Jeffery Hague of Local 495 lost his life on Dec. 30, 2018.

Regrettably, we have had a sixty-six (66%) percent increase in switching fatalities in 2019 compared to 2018. These include members Travis “Bowie” Andrepont of Local 1947, Chris Seidl of Local 1227 and most recently Curtis C. “C.C.” McConihay of Local 1386. All lost during rail switching operations. Sadly, all of our fallen members families will never feel the same joy of this season again.

Making a difference in your safety as a bus operator or a railroader has to start with both you and I, as it will take all of us actively working together in this union to succeed. We are already moving forward with plans to change how we all work together on safety-related issues, including the reporting of unsafe conditions, training, and the prevention of injuries.

However, it is imperative that we hear from members in the field about unsafe conditions, be it bus or rail, so we know where to deploy our own investigators and experts to help.

The SMART-TD website will be going through a series of updates in the near future. We will be updating our successful technology failure report and deploying an online unsafe condition and close-call report along with a few others to get you and our office connected on these issues. This will be explained in more detail in a forthcoming announcement.

As a reminder, I have listed the five life-saving tips that the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) working group — comprised of representatives from labor, management and the FRA — have promoted in efforts to bring railroaders home safely to their families. With the recent rollout of Precision Scheduled Railroading, and productivity and profits placed directly ahead of employee safety, it is my belief that the focus on these life-saving rules and practices has been lost from a management standpoint. Therefore, I would ask that you take time to review them now and incorporate them into your daily work routine, especially in this most-dangerous season.

SOFA’s five life-saving tips can save yours, as they have saved countless other railroaders from death and career-ending injuries:

  1. Secure all equipment before action is taken.
  2. Protect employees against moving equipment.
  3. Discuss safety at the beginning of a job or when work changes.
  4. Communicate before action is taken.
  5. Mentor less experienced employees to perform service safely.

The SOFA working group also warned of special switching hazards:

  • Close clearances
  • Shoving movements
  • Unsecured cars
  • Free rolling rail cars
  • Exposure to mainline trains
  • Tripping, slipping or falling
  • Unexpected movement of cars
  • Adverse environmental conditions
  • Equipment defects
  • Motor vehicles or loading devices
  • Drugs and alcohol

On behalf of all your international officers, I once again wish you a blessed, safe and happy holiday season.



President, Transportation Division

President Ferguson requests FRA emergency order over air brake valves

SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy Ferguson has requested that the Federal Railroad Administration issue an emergency order to carriers that train car valves prone to leakage during cold temperatures be replaced and/or repaired immediately.

“The FRA and the AAR have known about this issue for too long and have done too little to address it in a timely fashion. The safety of the public and all railroaders should never be compromised for the sake of productivity,” he said. “Our organization will not tolerate such behavior, nor will it go unchecked.”

The DB-60 II control valve manufactured by New York Air Brake is shown in this image from the manufacturer’s website. This model uses the DB-10 as one of its components.

The malfunctioning main air brake control valves on cars prevent trains from going into emergency braking mode during cold weather.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has been aware of cold-weather operation issues for New York Air Brake valve model DB-10 since at least October 2013. It sent out a maintenance advisory to all members of an inspection and repair procedure at that time.

In a letter to FRA Administrator Ron Batory sent Dec. 20, President Ferguson expressed his strong disappointment that a known safety issue has not been addressed by the agency or the carriers for more than six years.

“It is unacceptable that the malfunctioning valves remain in service after the better part of a decade without proper oversight and enforcement,” Ferguson wrote. “It is equally unacceptable that the carriers, rather than fix the problem, issue stopgap remedies to solve what we have been informed is a basic issue of preventive maintenance that costs approximately $200 and as little as two hours to repair.

“It is our opinion that your agency has not done enough to ensure that the safety of rail workers and the public is protected by enforcing its own regulations.”

SMART-TD informed FRA of suspected valve failures in a letter that was sent to FRA’s Region 8 in February 2019 by Dakotas State Legislative Director Jim Chase. Former National Legislative Director John Risch followed up with a series of communications on the issue as well.

FRA advised SMART-TD that it is examining the issue and has made recommendations to carriers as to how to rectify the situation.

“I’m not real satisfied with what’s been done here,” Chase said, saying that a pair of FRA rules appear to not have been stringently enforced for six years.

It should be noted that the FRA rule §232.103(i) states:

“(i) All trains shall be equipped with an emergency application feature that produces an irretrievable stop, using a brake rate consistent with prevailing adhesion, train safety, and brake system thermal capacity. An emergency application shall be available at all times, and shall be initiated by an unintentional parting of the train line or loss of train brake communication.”

Also not being enforced, Chase said, is:

§232.105 General requirements for locomotives.
(a) The air brake equipment on a locomotive shall be in safe and suitable condition for service.

(g) When taking charge of a locomotive or locomotive consist, an engineer must know that the brakes are in operative condition.

New York Airbrake valve DB-10 was initially approved for a finite useful life by FRA. At the behest of carriers, who raised concerns about the cost of replacing these valves on thousands to tens of thousands of private cars, the valve’s use has been extended, with a number of the valves in service having components being used beyond their useful period.

Each affected train car has a single valve on it that consists of two chambers, one that supplies air for service brake application for the train and one that supplies air for an emergency brake application. Any failure of this valve could conceivably affect a train’s stopping power while it is in motion.

“There is an expected life span on these valves which is being exceeded, and this has led to valves not going into emergency,” Chase wrote in a memo to members last month, describing the suspected source of the malfunction.

Swapping out of the valves used to be a regular occurrence, according to a representative from the SMART Mechanical Department (SMART-MD).

“They used to change these valves along with all air components every eight years,” said Larry Holbert, a SMART-MD international representative.

Changing the service or emergency portion of the valve involves the removal of three bolts and replacing gaskets, Holbert said. But now, according to reports Holbert’s been getting from the field, this maintenance is done on a catch-as-catch-can basis, rather than as a preventive measure, and a leaky valve is a tricky malfunction to track down, he said. The lubricants used for the pistons in the valves dry up over time, and the gaskets also can become brittle, leading to air escaping.

“One of the main concerns is the valve will fail in the winter months. The car will be brought into the shop and pass an air test as the O-rings and seats have warmed up,” Holbert said.

SMART-TD members, who operate trains in cold-weather states, indicate that weather below 40 degrees F brings increased instances where these valves possibly fail. As a result, trains in an incident where cars have separated may not go into emergency. And, an emergency brake application by the crew during such an incident may fail because of insufficient air pressure.

In one instance, Chase said, a coal train broke in two near Dengate, N.D., and the detached cars rolled backward for miles because the rear of the train did not go into emergency mode. He said another incident in Hettinger, N.D., also involved a train splitting and cars rolling backward for a substantial distance after emergency mode failed.

Chase said he has experienced two occasions just this month in North Dakota where emergency capability has been lost on trains he has operated.

“The public and employees have the right to be safe,” Chase said. “I can think of nothing more important than having emergency capability.”

A local chairperson from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen recently reported Dec. 9 that a locomotive failed to go into emergency as well.

The malfunctioning valves, when discovered, are trucked out by carriers and taken to be rebuilt by Wabtec, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based company, at an estimated cost of just over $180, Holbert said. Holbert estimates that if the necessary parts were in hand once a failing valve was identified, a properly equipped shop could service the valves in a half-hour or less with “minimal” time spent for carriers to swap the bad valves out.

“It’s frustrating to see this occurring. They used to do the preventative maintenance,” Holbert said.

To SMART-TD leadership’s knowledge, carriers operating in cold weather have not issued any warnings about potential valve failures. With the coming onset of winter, the potential for failures could become more prevalent.

Chase said that carriers have been reluctant to allow valves to be tested, because of potential delays to their ability to serve customers, given that there are possibly tens of thousands of private cars equipped with the DB-10 valves that could fail.

In-cab personnel are advised:

  • Evidence of the symptom begins with increased brake pipe air flow from the controlling (lead) locomotive after a brake application has been initiated. Increased head-end air flow is caused by leakage from the bottom cover exhaust port of the DB-10 service portion on the brake control valve.
  • When the air is set during an air test, if air is heard leaking out of the bottom of the valve, it is defective. If the person at the controls of the locomotive notes excessive air flow during application of the train brake, pay particular attention to an audible blow of air coming from the vent of any DB-10 service portion that may be in the consist.

A workaround that has been advocated by carriers is not safe, Chase tells SMART-TD members.

“We have been instructed now to draw the train down to zero brake pipe pressure before we separate the train to set out a bad ordered car, thus circumventing the process by which we are able to determine if the train will make an emergency application should we actually need to do so after we leave the terminal,” he said in his alert memo.

“I cannot overstate how dangerous this new procedure is. The ability of the train to go into emergency is paramount.

“We didn’t initially realize the scope of this issue. We need to start documenting emergency brake failure incidents. It’s important that somebody other than the carrier is notified. Please contact your local SMART-TD safety leadership so that we can develop a database to document this issue,” Chase said.

Members should reach out to their state legislative directors, local legislative representative, or to the SMART-TD National Rail Safety Team to report safety concerns surrounding this issue and any others that may come up. These representatives are here to work for you and to help protect you on the job.