Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

SMART-TD Wins Another Victory in the Crew Consist Battle

On January 8, 2021, Arbitrator Wendell Bell issued his arbitration award regarding the process and procedure in arbitrating the Carriers’ (UP, BNSF, NS & KCS) attack on the Crew Consist Moratoria.

The arbitration, known as a “Procedural Public Law Board,” had the purpose of determining the terms of how any primary arbitration should proceed. Procedural PLBs 7959, 7960, 7961 & 7962 were a result of SMART-TD’s efforts disputing the improper action of the Railroads to prematurely re-open crew consist negotiations before the appropriate moratorium expired.

SMART-TD argued the Carriers improperly served their Notice to Arbitrate and failed to properly conference their suddenly new-found interpretations of the moratoria. SMART-TD not only prevailed in these arguments, it also secured a ruling ensuring the terms of the next round of arbitration will be conducted properly.

In a fairly dense 35-page award, which cited U.S. Supreme Court and numerous lower-court decisions along with several arbitration awards, the Procedural Arbitrator set May 1, 2021, for the next round of arbitration, dependent upon funding approvals by the National Mediation Board. As currently constructed, the National Mediation Board consists of two Republican members appointed by President Donald Trump and one Democrat member. It is expected the make-up of the Board will change shortly once the nominations by President-elect Biden are confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Whether those changes will be able to take place prior to the selection of the next arbitrator or May 1st is unknown.

The railroads’ efforts to swiftly force a change to crew consist while still under the railroad-friendly Trump Administration is now unlikely due to the unwavering effort of SMART-TD. Since October 2019, when the railroads first ignited this fight, SMART-TD has defended our agreements against this attempted subversion by the carriers. We have and continue to tirelessly fight for our members’ livelihoods.

SMART-TD members can rest assured that their union will continue to fight to protect your crew consist agreements and livelihood, while seeking to secure the opportunities of the future in the rapidly changing and technology-laden railroad industry.

Security concerns change Biden’s Amtrak plans

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.

Read more on CNN.

Rail unions petition Homeland Security to enhance passenger rail security after U.S. Capitol insurrection

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Jan. 13, 2021) — The leaders of two of the nation’s largest railroad worker unions urgently petitioned the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a letter Jan. 13 to enact a “No-Ride List” on passenger rail carriers after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington D.C.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) demanded that the DHS take immediate executive action to tighten passenger rail security in line with aviation security overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Even as of this hour, the only real requirement for a person to board a train is simply to have a ticket; nothing more, nothing less. There is no screening process. There is no TSA. And there are no significant statutes or regulations to penalize those willing to interfere with a train’s crew or to do harm on a train, especially not when compared to the airline industry,” Presidents Jeremy R. Ferguson of SMART-TD and Dennis R. Pierce of the BLET said in their emergency order request.

SMART-TD and BLET urge that DHS implement a “No-Ride List” that mirrors FAA’s No Fly List immediately by expanding 49 U.S.C. §114(h) to include the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and passenger rail carriers.

“By granting an extension of the statute and giving access to the FRA and rail carriers, there will be, at minimum, a line of protection against those known to pose a threat from utilizing rail to manipulate the country’s transportation system, and it will mitigate against unwanted, aggressive interaction or attacks on train crews,” the presidents wrote.

The petition to DHS for an emergency order follows a similar petition sent Jan. 11 to FRA urging it to act to prevent security vulnerabilities and to protect those who ride — as well as the essential workers who operate — passenger rail service in and around the nation.

Read the Emergency Order Request (PDF).

# # #

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 different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, 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.

Rail unions petition FRA to protect Amtrak passengers, personnel after U.S. Capitol insurrection

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Jan. 12, 2021) — The leaders of two of the nation’s largest railroad worker unions urgently petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a letter January 11 to prevent security vulnerabilities and to protect those who ride — as well as the essential workers who operate — Amtrak passenger rail service in and around the nation’s capital after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) demanded that FRA and DHS take immediate executive action to tighten security and enhance punishments, and to increase personnel to a level that brings passenger rail security more in line with aviation security overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the threat of political violence swirls.

“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,” Presidents Jeremy R. Ferguson of SMART-TD and Dennis R. Pierce of the BLET 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.”

Suspected insurrectionists continue to threaten further violence as the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration approaches next week. Some of these have been relegated to the No Fly List overseen by FAA, preventing them from traveling by air, but no such restriction exists for the national passenger rail network. SMART-TD and BLET urge that a “no-ride” list that mirrors FAA’s list be enacted immediately.

Similarly, train stations lack security. Absent the screening protocols similar to those provided by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) at the nation’s airports, armed riders with malicious intent could board an Amtrak train with weapons, putting passengers and rail workers at risk of injury or death. To remedy this, SMART-TD and BLET call for an additional law enforcement presence in the form of Amtrak police or, if manpower is insufficient, requests the Department of Justice or Department of Homeland Security bring in U.S. Marshals or TSA agents to take measures approaching those enacted by the airline industry.

A proportional presence of workers in the passenger compartments of Amtrak trains similar to that in the airline industry, with at least one conductor or assistant conductor present per 50 riders aboard also can enhance safety and the response aboard the train if an emergency does occur.

“SMART-TD is committed to safety, and we will accept nothing less. Our men and women risk their lives every single day as critical infrastructure employees in the railroad industry,” Ferguson said. “They have no way of knowing if an individual is violent, armed, or much less already flagged as a known risk to safety via the TSA’s No Fly List. Every encounter could serve as an agitation or provocation of an already aggravated individual to attack.

“Our members deserve better and the traveling public deserves better. We are willing and able to work with all applicable agencies to achieve this goal, but it must be done today.”

“Railroad workers have continued to serve the needs of the traveling public during these difficult times,” BLET President Pierce said. “Our members are hardworking Americans who put their lives at risk each day in the performance of their duties. In the aftermath of the violence in our nation’s capital last week, our members and the traveling public deserve increased protection during this time of ongoing political unrest. We stand ready to assist FRA, TSA and Homeland Security to help ensure the safety of our members and the traveling public.”

Read the PDF of the Emergency Order petition from the unions.

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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 different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, 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.

FRA roundup – several actions published in Federal Register

Over the past 1.5 weeks, the Federal Railroad Administration has published several notices in the Federal Register. Below are portions of those postings, including: Drug and alcohol testing: Determination of minimum random testing rates for 2021 (notification of determination); Qualification and certification of locomotive engineers – miscellaneous revisions (final rule); Positive train control systems (notice of proposed rulemaking); and Fatigue risk management programs for certain passenger and freight railroads (notice of proposed rulemaking).


Drug and alcohol testing: Determination of minimum random testing rates for 2021 (notification of determination) – (published 12/15/2020)

Supplementary information:

FRA is announcing the 2021 minimum annual random drug and alcohol testing rates for covered service and MOW employees. For calendar year 2021, the minimum annual random testing rates for covered service employees will continue to be 25% for drugs and 10% for alcohol, while the minimum annual random testing rates for MOW employees will continue to be 50% for drugs and will be lowered to 10% for alcohol. Because these rates represent minimums, railroads and contractors may conduct FRA random testing at higher rates.

Discussion:

To set its minimum annual random testing rates for each year, FRA examines the last two complete calendar years of railroad industry drug and alcohol program data submitted to its Management Information System (MIS). FRA has also, however, reserved the right to consider factors other than MIS-reported data before deciding whether to lower annual minimum random testing rates. See 63 FR 71789 (Dec. 30, 1998).

Random testing rates for covered service employees

The rail industry’s random drug testing positive rate for covered service employees (employees subject to the Federal hours of service laws and regulations) remained below 1.0% for 2018 and 2019. The administrator has therefore determined the minimum annual random drug testing rate for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021, will remain at 25% for covered service employees. The industry-wide random alcohol testing violation rate for covered service employees remained below 0.5% for 2018 and 2019. Therefore, the administrator has determined the minimum random alcohol testing rate will remain at 10% for covered service employees for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021.

Random testing rates for MOW employees

MOW employees became subject to FRA random drug and alcohol testing in June 2017. See 81 FR 37894 (June 10, 2016). FRA now has MIS data for two full consecutive years of the industry-wide performance rates for MOW employees, 2018 and 2019. While FRA may lower the minimum random drug testing rate to 25% whenever the industry-wide random drug positive rate is less than 1.0 percent for two consecutive calendar years while testing at the 50% rate, FRA has reserved the right to consider other factors before deciding whether to lower annual minimum random testing rates. See 63 FR 71789 (Dec. 30, 1998).

As illustrated in the figures in the appendix below, in contrast to the drug testing positive rate for covered service employees that remained substantially below 1.0% for 2018 and 2019, the random drug testing positive rate for MOW employees is not only trending upwards, but also approaching the 1.0% positive rate threshold at which point the administrator will raise the drug testing rate under 49 CFR 219.625(d)(2). Specifically, the industry-wide random drug testing violation rate for MOW employees increased from 0.69% in 2018 to 0.8% in 2019, and MOW employees continue to have a higher positive testing rate than covered service employees.[1The Administrator further notes that MOW employees who were performing duties for a railroad before June 12, 2017, were exempted from the pre-employment drug testing requirement. See 49 CFR 219.501(e). As such, some MOW employees may remain who have never been subject to FRA drug testing because they have not yet been randomly selected.

Taking these factors into consideration, the administrator finds it is currently not in the interest of railroad safety to lower the random drug testing rate for MOW employees. Therefore, for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021, the administrator has determined that the minimum annual random drug testing rate will continue to be 50% for MOW employees.

Because the random alcohol testing violation rate for MOW employees remained substantially below 0.5% for 2018 and 2019, and has been trending downwards, the administrator has determined that the minimum annual random alcohol testing rate will be lowered to 10% for MOW employees for the period January 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021.

 Click here to read the full notice as published in the Federal Register.


Qualification and certification of locomotive engineers; miscellaneous revisions (final rule) – published 12/15/2020

Summary:

FRA is revising its regulation governing the qualification and certification of locomotive engineers to make it consistent with its regulation for the qualification and certification of conductors. The changes include: Amending the program submission process; handling engineer and conductor petitions for review with a single FRA review board (Operating Crew Review Board or OCRB); and revising the filing requirements for petitions to the OCRB. To ensure consistency throughout its regulations, FRA is also making conforming amendments to its regulations governing the control of alcohol and drug use, and the qualification and certification of conductors. The changes would reduce regulatory burdens on the railroad industry while maintaining the existing level of safety.

Dates:

This regulation is effective January 14, 2021.

Executive Summary

On May 9, 2019, FRA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 240, Qualification and Certification of Locomotive Engineers (part 240).[1In response to that NPRM, FRA received three written comments.

This final rule responds to those comments and amends part 240 by: Making part 240 more consistent with the language in 49 CFR part 242, Qualification and Certification of Conductors (part 242); creating two provisions under which railroads may issue temporary locomotive engineer certifications; merging FRA’s locomotive engineer and conductor review boards; adopting aspects of part 242 for locomotive engineer certification; providing labor representatives with the ability to provide input on a railroad’s part 240 program; and allowing for and encouraging the use of electronic document submission of a railroad’s part 240 program. This final rule also makes technical amendments to part 242 to: (1) Make the requirement for calibration of audiometers used during hearing tests for conductors the same as the requirement in part 240 for locomotive engineers; and (2) conform the definition of “main track” in part 242 to the definition of “main track” in part 240.

Additionally, this final rule makes conforming amendments to title 49 CFR part 219, Control of Alcohol and Drug Use (part 219) to update two cross-references to part 240. Updating these references is necessary to ensure consistency between part 219 and part 240, as amended.

The final rule will create new costs. First, each locomotive engineer certification manager will need to review the amendments made to part 240 to ensure compliance is maintained. Second, amendments to part 240 will require each railroad to provide a copy of its part 240 plan to the president of each labor organization whenever the railroad files a submission, resubmission, or makes a material modification to its plan. Third, a railroad will need to maintain service records for certified locomotive engineers who are not performing service that requires locomotive engineer certification. For the 20-year period of analysis, the cost of the final rule will be $233,779 (undiscounted), $171,764 (PV 7%), and $200,775 (PV 3%).

The final rule will also create cost savings. First, adding clarity in part 240 and conforming language in part 240 to part 242 will reduce stakeholder burden related to review and compliance with part 240. Second, it will reduce the burden on a railroad when providing another railroad with information about a former employee’s prior service records. Third, it will update the program submission process to allow for electronic document submission, which will reduce stakeholder paperwork and submission costs related to part 240 program submissions and locomotive engineer certification petitions. Fourth, it will remove the requirement for railroads to obtain a waiver from the annual testing requirements for certified locomotive engineers who are not performing service that requires certification. For the 20-year period of analysis, the cost savings of the final rule will be $12.3 million (undiscounted), $6.9 million (PV 7%), and $9.4 million (PV 3%).

As shown in Table ES.1, the regulatory evaluation quantifies the economic impact of the final rule in terms of cost savings and new costs accruing to stakeholders. For the 20-year period of analysis, the final rule will result in a net cost savings of $12.0 million (undiscounted), $6.8 million (PV 7%), and $9.2 million (PV 3%). This final rule is an Executive Order (E.O.) 13771 deregulatory action. Details on the estimated costs of this final rule can be found in the rule’s economic analysis.

(Click here to view table).

The final rule will create benefits. First, the final rule will amend the part 240 program submission process to require railroads to solicit labor input, providing for fully informed decisions by railroads. Second, it affords railroads additional time and flexibility to comply with some regulatory requirements. Third, it creates certain provisions that allow for temporary locomotive engineer certificates. Fourth, electronic filing will make information more accessible to interested stakeholders and the public. Because FRA lacks sufficient information related to these four benefits, this analysis could not accurately quantify these benefits. Therefore, the rule’s economic analysis qualitatively explains benefits.

The final rule will also reduce Governmental administrative costs, including mailing, filing, and storing costs related to amendments to part 240, by allowing the Government and stakeholders to transmit and store documents electronically.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full final rule as published in the Federal Register.


Positive train control systems (notice of proposed rulemaking) – published 12/18/2020

Summary:

FRA is proposing to revise its regulations governing changes to positive train control (PTC) systems and reporting on PTC system functioning. First, recognizing that the railroad industry intends to enhance further FRA-certified PTC systems to continue improving rail safety and PTC technology’s reliability and operability, FRA proposes to modify the process by which a host railroad must submit a request for amendment (RFA) to FRA before making certain changes to its PTC Safety Plan (PTCSP) and FRA-certified PTC system. Second, to enable more effective FRA oversight, FRA proposes to: Expand an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual; broaden the reporting requirement to encompass positive performance-related information, not just failure-related information; and require host railroads to utilize a new, standardized Biannual Report of PTC System Performance (Form FRA F 6180.152). Overall, the proposed amendments would benefit the railroad industry, the public, and FRA, by reducing unnecessary costs, facilitating innovation, and improving FRA’s ability to oversee PTC system performance and reliability, while not negatively affecting rail safety.

Dates:

Written comments must be received by February 16, 2021. FRA believes a 60-day comment period is appropriate to allow the public to comment on this proposed rule. FRA will consider comments received after that date to the extent practicable.

Addresses:

Comments: Comments related to Docket No. FRA-2019-0075 may be submitted by going to http://www.regulations.gov and following the online instructions for submitting comments.

Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name, docket number (FRA-2019-0075), and Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) for this rulemaking (2130-AC75). All comments received will be posted without change to https://www.regulations.gov;​ this includes any personal information. Please see the Privacy Act heading in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for Privacy Act information related to any submitted comments or materials.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to https://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for accessing the docket.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full notice of proposed rulemaking as published in the Federal Register.


Fatigue risk management programs for certain passenger and freight railroads (notice of proposed rulemaking) – published 12/22/2020

Summary:

Pursuant to the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, FRA proposes to issue regulations requiring certain railroads to develop and implement a Fatigue Risk Management Program, as one component of the railroads’ larger railroad safety risk reduction programs.

Dates:

Written comments must be received by February 22, 2021. Comments received after that date will be considered to the extent practicable without incurring additional expense or delay.

Addresses:

Comments related to Docket No. FRA-2015-0122 may be submitted by going to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.

Instructions: All submissions must include the agency name, docket name and docket number or Regulatory Identification Number (RIN) for this rulemaking (2130-AC54). Note that all comments received will be posted without change to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided. Please see the Privacy Act heading in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document for Privacy Act information on any submitted comments or materials.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to http://www.regulations.gov.

Introduction and Executive Summary:

Purpose of Rulemaking

This proposed rule is part of FRA’s efforts to improve rail safety continually and to satisfy the statutory mandate of Section 103 of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA).[1That section, codified at 49 U.S.C. 20156, requires Class I railroads; railroad carriers with inadequate safety performance (ISP), as determined by the Secretary; and railroad carriers that provide intercity rail passenger or commuter rail passenger transportation to develop and implement a safety risk reduction program to improve the safety of their operations. The section further requires a railroad’s safety risk reduction program to include a “fatigue management plan” meeting certain requirements.

This proposed rule, if finalized, would fulfill RSIA’s mandate for railroads to include fatigue management plans in their safety risk reduction programs by requiring railroads to develop and implement Fatigue Risk Management Programs (FRMPs).[2As proposed, a railroad would implement its FRMP through an FRMP plan.

Under this proposed rule, consistent with the mandate of Section 20156, an FRMP is a comprehensive, system-oriented approach to safety in which a railroad determines its fatigue risk by identifying and analyzing applicable hazards and takes action to mitigate, if not eliminate, that fatigue risk.[3As proposed, a railroad would be required to prepare a written FRMP plan and submit it to FRA for review and approval. A railroad’s written FRMP plan would become part of its existing safety risk reduction program plan. A railroad would also be required to implement its FRA-approved FRMP plan, conduct an internal annual assessment of its FRMP, and consistent with Section 20156’s mandate, update its FRMP plan periodically. As part of a railroad safety risk reduction program, a railroad’s FRMP would also be subject to assessments by FRA.

This is just a small portion of the actual notice in the Federal Register. Click here to read the full notice of proposed rulemaking as published in the Federal Register.

 

FRA publishes final rule for state highway-rail grade crossing action plans

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a final rule requiring 40 states and the District of Columbia to develop and implement highway-rail grade crossing action plans to improve public safety. In addition, the rule requires 10 states that have already developed grade crossing action plans, as required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) and FRA’s implementing regulation, to update their plans and submit reports describing the actions they have taken to implement them.

“Grade crossing accidents and incidents are the second-leading cause of rail-related deaths in the United States, but nearly every one of them is preventable,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “The action plans give states a tool to engage with federal and local partners, railroads, and rail safety advocates to identify high-risk crossings and develop strategies to save lives.”

“Safety is imperative to FHWA, especially where roads and rails meet,” said Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Administrator Nicole R. Nason. “These action plans can help states make highway-rail grade crossings safer for the traveling public.”

The final rule responds to a Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act mandate requiring states to develop and implement (or update, if applicable) action plans. Each plan must identify crossings that have experienced at least one accident or incident in the previous three years, multiple accidents or incidents in the previous five years, or that are determined by the state to be at high-risk for accidents or incidents. Furthermore, each action plan must identify specific strategies for improving safety at crossings, including crossing closures or re-aligning roadways over or under railways.

Under RSIA, FRA identified 10 states as having the most highway-rail grade crossing collisions, on average, over the three-year period from 2006 through 2008. In June 2010, FRA issued a final rule requiring these states to develop action plans and submit them to FRA for approval. The states are Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas. The FAST Act now requires each of them to submit an updated action plan and a report to FRA describing what it did to implement its previous action plan and how it will continue to reduce crossing safety risks.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia are required to submit individual highway-rail grade crossing action plans to FRA for review and approval no later than 14 months after the final rule’s publication date of December 14, 2020. FRA will provide technical assistance to help them develop (or update) their action plans. The states may also use federal funds allocated through FHWA’s Railway-Highway Crossing (Section 130) Program to develop and update their action plans.

Further information on the final rule for State Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Action Plans is published in the Federal Register here.

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 https://go.usa.gov/xA3Bb and the docket for the investigation is available at https://go.usa.gov/xA3ZE.

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.

SMART-TD, other unions ask for essential transportation workers to be prioritized for vaccine

SMART Transportation Division today petitioned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to prioritize essential transportation workers as recipients of COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible.

“Without a healthy, robust transportation sector, our country cannot hope to effectively implement any vaccination strategy,” SMART-TD and two other unions wrote. “We ask that you recognize these concerns by prioritizing frontline transit and rail workers in the next phase of vaccine allocation (Phase 1b) in your upcoming recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

SMART Transportation Division has lost at least 12 active members in the bus, freight rail and transit crafts to the COVID-19 pandemic according to reports received by the TD office.

The letter was also signed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Transport Workers Union of America.

Read the letter from SAMRT-TD, IAM and TWU.

SMART-TD mourns the death of Larry Willis

The SMART Transportation Division joins transportation labor leaders nationwide as we mourn the untimely death of AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Larry Willis.

“Brother Willis was a tremendous leader who provided determined guidance, measured action and stood undaunted by the multitude of challenges transportation labor in our country faces now and will continue to face going forward,” SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Along with the other unions that comprise the TTD, we will miss his leadership, tremendous insight and experience. We are filled with sadness for his family and friends at his tragic loss and mourn along with them.”

On Nov. 30, TTD Secretary-Treasurer Greg Regan issued this statement of mourning and remembrance:

“With his wife and daughter by his side, AFL-CIO TTD president Larry Willis, 53, succumbed on Nov. 29 to injuries sustained on November 22 in a tragic biking accident.

AFL-CIO TTD President Larry Willis passed away on Nov. 29.

“We mourn today the shocking loss of a brother and fierce advocate for working people.

“The transportation labor family and the entire workers’ rights community lost a leader, activist, mentor, and friend when Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), passed away yesterday.

“For more than 20 years, Larry dedicated his life to the labor movement, working tirelessly to enhance the rights and livelihoods of those who work on the front lines of our transportation system. In addition to serving as president, a position he was elected to in 2017, Larry also served as secretary-treasurer, chief of staff, general counsel, and legislative counsel and representative at TTD. His mastery of complex legal and regulatory issues set the foundation for TTD’s policy leadership, and raised the bar for demanding and enforcing worker protections throughout our nation’s transportation system.

“During his tenure at TTD, Larry faced some of transportation labor’s most daunting challenges. He met those and other crises head on, showing an unwavering dedication to working people and their unions, and a deep-seated desire to help those suffering from circumstances beyond their control. In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Larry took on the insurmountable challenge of restoring our transportation industry and balancing the security needs of the country with the due process working people are entitled to, successfully securing protections in our laws that lie at the center of our homeland security regime. During the 2008 financial crisis, he played a pivotal role in shaping the largest economic stimulus package for transportation investments ever passed in the U.S. Even up until the week he left us, Larry continued to push for health care and economic assistance for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and acted as a steady reminder that recovery from this crisis is not possible without the essential functions performed by transportation workers.

“Larry’s advocacy style was straightforward and effective: forge meaningful relationships with leaders at all levels of government and across the political spectrum, build power through unity and find ways to work together to lift up all transportation workers. This approach is perhaps best exemplified in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization bill. Under a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, Larry’s leadership led transportation labor to endorse one of the most pro-labor FAA reauthorization bills in U.S. history.

“Millions of people have had their lives improved because of the work Larry did, yet most of those people will never know Larry’s name. For Larry, that didn’t matter. He was not motivated by fame or fortune – his end goal was always about doing the most good for the greatest number of people. Though his time with us has been cut short, Larry’s legacy will live on in the legislation he helped shape, the policy makers he reached through thoughtful, sophisticated arguments, the colleagues and staff he influenced and mentored, and the working people he dedicated his life to.

“Larry graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Political Science and earned a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School. He was an active member of the D.C. Bar. He loved Camp Echo, biking, traveling with his wife, cheering on his daughter at swim competitions, and playing tennis with his father. Larry is survived by his loving wife, Amy, and beloved daughter, Samantha.”

Click here for additional details about Larry’s life in this story from the Washington Post.

Click here for the official and service details.

FTA announces 2021 drug and alcohol testing rates

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) posted its 2021 drug and alcohol testing rates in the Federal Register Nov. 24. According to the notice, the minimum random drug testing rate will remain at 50%, while the random alcohol testing rate will remain at 10% for the year. The notice applies to employers subject to 49 CFR part 655. The rates are effective January 1, 2021.

Click here to read the posted notice in the Federal Register.

Amtrak repeats call for funding aid as it releases fiscal results

In its preliminary financial report, Amtrak said that the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced ridership on the national passenger carrier by about 75% from pre-COVID levels.

While Amtrak leadership expects a slow rebound in ridership, with forecasts seeing an increase to about 40% of pre-pandemic levels by the close of the 2021 fiscal year as COVID-19 abates, the coronavirus has been a massive shock to the carrier.

Members of SMART-TD and other labor unions rallied in late September urging Congress to avoid Amtrak job cuts.

“Our dedicated employees continue to work tirelessly through the pandemic to keep this country moving, advance critical infrastructure and update technology and services, and provide safe transportation to customers,” said Amtrak President & CEO William Flynn. “However, without additional funding for 2021, we will be forced to further reduce service, defer critical capital projects and make more job reductions despite this important progress.”

The Republican-controlled Senate did not act on a pair of bills — the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act — passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would have provided additional emergency funding for Amtrak to maintain employment and service levels as the nation continues to cope with the coronavirus. Instead, funding was maintained at 2020 levels by Congress.

In reaction to not having the nearly $5 billion needed to maintain operations, carrier leadership reduced daily long-distance routes to three trips a week and cut about 2,000 unionized employees effective Nov. 1 over the objections of SMART-TD and other unions representing Amtrak workers.

The carrier had expected to break even for the first time in its history during the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 2019 to Sept. 2020.

Read the carrier’s report.