Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

Trump administration renominates candidates to transportation positions

A number of candidates to transportation-related oversight posts in the federal government whose nominations were returned to President Donald Trump in early January have been renominated to those posts.

Thelma Drake has been renominated to be the administrator of the DOT’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Lynn Westmoreland, Joseph Gruters and Rick Dearborn are again under consideration for positions on the Amtrak board of directors.

SMART Transportation Division opposes the nomination of Westmoreland, whose voting record as a U.S. representative shows he has a long history of voting against Amtrak funding.

“As a longtime member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Westmoreland has a hostile voting record against Amtrak, which includes efforts to eliminate federal funding for Amtrak entirely. In addition, Westmoreland has been an original cosponsor of the ‘National Right-to-Work Act’ on multiple occasions, which would significantly weaken our ability to collectively bargain. For these reasons, we oppose his nomination as it would undermine the core mission of Amtrak and its employees,” we reported when his nomination was initially introduced in October 2017.

Also renominated by the president are Michelle Schultz to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), and Michael Graham and Jennifer Homendy to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Homendy is currently serving a term on the board that runs out at the end of 2019.

Two nominations also were made to highway oversight positions — Heidi King to administer the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Nicole Nason to administer the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).

These nominations will be considered by U.S. Senate subcommittees before potential advancement for consideration by the full Senate.

TTD, SMART TD urge end to shutdown

SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich supports a rapid resolution to the partial federal government shutdown and fully endorses this message from AFL-CIO TTD President Larry Willis that was sent to U.S. representatives.

January 10, 2019

End this Unnecessary and Harmful Government Shutdown

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), I urge you to pass H.R. 267, the FY 2019 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill and end the partial government shutdown by passing the remaining spending bills. Another day cannot pass without federal workers returning to their paid work.

As the country approaches the third week of a government shutdown, roughly 800,000 government employees are either working without pay or furloughed with no end in sight. Those numbers do not include the thousands of federal contractors going without pay and who will not likely be retroactively compensated for their loss of work. This Friday, hundreds of thousands of federal workers will miss their first paycheck of the year. This is no longer a theoretical discussion of the effects of a shutdown. Facing post-holiday bills, many workers will have to decide whether they can put gas in their car, pay the bills, or meet childcare or medical expenses. Already, thousands are beginning to apply for unemployment.

Simultaneously, shuttered agencies like the Department of Transportation (DOT) are unable to fulfill their mandates. Many of DOT’s grant making operations have been closed, forcing local and state transportation officials to halt or slow transit, rail, and even road projects until federal funding is guaranteed. In Oklahoma alone, 45 highway projects worth $137 million will be delayed. If the shutdown continues, New York City’s public transit system is expected to lose $150 million per month. Worse, state transportation agencies across the country may be forced to cut maintenance, reduce service, or furlough state workers within their transportation systems to make up for the lapse in federal funding.

The high safety and security standards that we demand and require of our transportation network are also being undermined during this government shutdown. Nearly all staff at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have been furloughed – stalling accident investigations and causing modal safety recommendations to languish. At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), critical aviation safety inspectors and systems specialists are prevented from doing the important work of keeping our skies safe. Air traffic controllers are working without pay, and their training academies have been shuttered, further exacerbating a staffing crisis that has plagued this workforce for too long. Furthermore, federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are reporting to work assignments that are often understaffed and are facing the added stress of not being paid, through no fault of their own.

TTD’s 32 affiliate unions represent workers in all modes of transportation. We know that consistent and strong federal investment in our transportation network not only keeps us safe, but also spurs economic growth and job creation for all Americans, expands the middle class, and creates mobility options in communities across the country. But these benefits are jettisoned when we halt funding for critical transportation accounts and bring uncertainty to an industry and sector that is so critical to our country. While H.R. 267 and the other spending bills being considered this week may not offer the funding levels we or others would prefer, it should offer a bipartisan compromise framework to get federal employees back to work.

We implore you to end this partial government shutdown now and allow federal workers to go back to serving the American people. On behalf of transportation labor, I urge you to pass H.R. 267 and reopen the nine federal agencies by passing the remaining spending bills.

Sincerely,
Larry I. Willis
President,
Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

To read more about how the shutdown is affecting the transportation industry, visit this page from the AFL-CIO TTD.

OSHA’s guide to working in cold weather

Winter weather presents hazards including slippery roads/surfaces, strong winds and environmental cold. Employers must prevent illnesses, injuries, or fatalities, by controlling these hazards in workplaces impacted by winter weather.

OSHA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working together on a public education effort aimed at improving the way people prepare for and respond to severe weather.

Cold stress

It is important for employers to know the wind chill temperature so that they can gauge workers’ exposure risk better and plan how to safely do the work. It is also important to monitor workers’ physical condition during tasks, especially new workers who may not be used to working in the cold, or workers returning after spending some time away from work.

The NOAA Weather Radio is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information from the nearest NWS office. It will give information when wind chill conditions reach critical thresholds. A Wind Chill Warning is issued when wind chill temperatures are life-threatening. A Wind Chill Advisory is issued when wind chill temperatures are potentially hazardous.

Who is affected by environmental cold?

Environmental cold can affect any worker exposed to cold air temperatures and puts workers at risk of cold stress. As wind speed increases, it causes the air temperature to feel even colder, increasing the risk of cold stress to exposed workers, especially those working outdoors, such as recreational workers, snow cleanup crews, construction workers, police officers and firefighters. Other workers who may be affected by exposure to environmental cold conditions include those in transit, baggage handlers, water transportation, landscaping services, and support activities for oil and gas operations.

Risk factors for cold stress include:

  • Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly and exhaustion
  • Predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism and diabetes
  • Poor physical conditioning

What is cold stress?

What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions that are not used to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for “cold stress.” Increased wind speed also causes heat to leave the body more rapidly (wind chill effect). Wetness or dampness, even from body sweat, also facilitates heat loss from the body. Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Types of cold stress include: trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia.

For more information, see OSHA’s Cold Stress Safety and Health Guide.

Types of Cold Stress

Immersion/Trench Foot

Trench foot is a non-freezing injury of the feet caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur in temperatures as high as 60°F if feet are constantly wet. Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet.

What are they symptoms of trench foot?

Reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness and blisters.

First Aid

  • Call 911 immediately in an emergency; otherwise seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • Remove wet shoes/boots and wet socks.
  • Dry the feet and avoid working on them.
  • Keep affected feet elevated and avoid walking. Get medical attention.

Frostbite

Frostbite is caused by the freezing of the skin and tissues. Frostbite can cause permanent damage to the body, and in severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

What are the symptoms of frostbite?

Reddened skin develops gray/white patches in the fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes; tingling, aching, a loss of feeling, firm/hard, and blisters may occur in the affected areas.

First Aid

  • Follow the recommendations described below for hypothermia.
  • Protect the frostbitten area, e.g., by wrapping loosely in a dry cloth and protect the area from contact until medical help arrives.
  • DO NOT rub the affected area, because rubbing causes damage to the skin and tissue.
  • Do not apply snow or water. Do not break blisters.
  • DO NOT try to re-warm the frostbitten area before getting medical help, for example, do not use heating pads or place in warm water. If a frostbitten area is rewarmed and gets frozen again, more tissue damage will occur. It is safer for the frostbitten area to be rewarmed by medical professionals.
  • Give warm sweetened drinks if alert (no alcohol).

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F. Exposure to cold temperatures causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or immersion in cold water.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?

An important mild symptom of hypothermia is uncontrollable shivering, which should not be ignored. Although shivering indicates that the body is losing heat, it also helps the body to rewarm itself. Moderate to severe symptoms of hypothermia are loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing slow, unconsciousness and possibly death. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know what is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

First Aid

  • Call 911 immediately in an emergency.
  • Move the worker to a warm, dry area.
  • Remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothing. Wrap the entire body (including the head and neck) in layers of blankets; and with a vapor barrier (e.g. tarp, garbage bag) Do not cover the face.

If medical help is more than 30 minutes away:

  • Give warm sweetened drinks if alert (no alcohol), to help increase the body temperature. Never try to give a drink to an unconscious person.
  • Place warm bottles or hot packs in armpits, sides of chest, and groin. Call 911 for additional rewarming instructions.

Basic Life Support (when necessary)

Co-workers trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may help a person suffering from hypothermia who has no pulse or is not breathing:

  • Call 911 for emergency medical assistance immediately.
  • Treat the worker as per instructions for hypothermia, but be very careful and do not try to give an unconscious person fluids.
  • Check him/her for signs of breathing and for a pulse. Check for 60 seconds.
  • If after 60 seconds the affected worker is not breathing and does not have a pulse, trained workers may start rescue breaths for 3 minutes.
  • Recheck for breathing and pulse, check for 60 seconds.
  • If the worker is still not breathing and has no pulse, continue rescue breathing.
  • Only start chest compressions per the direction of the 911 operator or emergency medical services*
  • Reassess patient’s physical status periodically.

*Chest compressions are recommended only if the patient will not receive medical care within 3 hours.

Wind Chill Temperature

Outdoor workers exposed to cold and windy conditions are at risk of cold stress, both air temperature and wind speed affect how cold they feel. “Wind chill” is the term used to describe the rate of heat loss from the human body, resulting from the combined effect of low air temperature, and wind speed. The wind chill temperature is a single value that takes both air temperature and wind speed into account. For example, when the air temperature is 40°F, and the wind speed is 35mph, the wind chill temperature is 28°F; this measurement is the actual effect of the environmental cold on the exposed skin.

National Weather Service (NWS) Wind Chill Calculator: With this tool, one may input the air temperature and wind speed, and it will calculate the wind chill temperature.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) developed the following Work/Warm-up Schedule for a 4-hour shift that takes both air temperature and wind speed into account to provide recommendations on scheduling work breaks and ceasing non-emergency work.

Dressing Properly for the Cold

Dressing properly is extremely important to preventing cold stress. When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, the following would help protect workers from cold stress:

  • Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
    • An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic (polypropylene) to keep moisture away from the body. Thermal wear, wool, silk or polypropylene, inner layers of clothing that will hold more body heat than cotton.
    • A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet.
    • An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
  • Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities. Insulated coat/jacket (water resistant if necessary)
  • Knit mask to cover face and mouth (if needed)
  • Hat that will cover your ears as well. A hat will help keep your whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
  • Insulated gloves (water resistant if necessary), to protect the hands
  • Insulated and waterproof boots to protect the feet

Safety tips for workers

  • Your employer should ensure that you know the symptoms of cold stress
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers
  • Dress appropriately for the cold
  • Stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body
  • Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change
  • Drink warm sweetened fluids (no alcohol)
  • Use proper engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by your employer

Winter driving

Although employers cannot control roadway conditions, they can promote safe driving behavior by ensuring workers recognize the hazards of winter weather driving, for example, driving on snow/ice covered roads; are properly trained for driving in winter weather conditions; and are licensed (as applicable) for the vehicles they operate. For information about driving safely during the winter, visit OSHA’s Safe Winter Driving page.

Employers should set and enforce driver safety policies. Employers should also implement an effective maintenance program for all vehicles and mechanized equipment that workers are required to operate. Crashes can be avoided. Learn more at the Motor Vehicle Safety (OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page) .

Employers should ensure properly trained workers inspect the following vehicle systems to determine if they are working properly:

  • Brakes: Brakes should provide even and balanced braking. Also check that brake fluid is at the proper level.
  • Cooling system: Ensure a proper mixture of 50/50 antifreeze and water in the cooling system at the proper level.
  • Electrical system: Check the ignition system and make sure that the battery is fully charged and that the connections are clean. Check that the alternator belt is in good condition with proper tension.
  • Engine: Inspect all engine systems.
  • Exhaust system: Check exhaust for leaks and that all clamps and hangers are snug.
  • Tires: Check for proper tread depth and no signs of damage or uneven wear. Check for proper tire inflation.
  • Oil: Check that oil is at proper level.
  • Visibility systems: Inspect all exterior lights, defrosters (windshield and rear window), and wipers. Install winter windshield wipers.

An emergency kit with the following items is recommended in vehicles:

  • Cell phone or two-way radio
  • Windshield ice scraper
  • Snow brush
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Shovel
  • Tow chain
  • Traction aids (bag of sand or cat litter)
  • Emergency flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Road maps
  • Blankets, change of clothes

Preventing slips on snow and ice

To prevent slips, trips, and falls, employers should clear snow and ice from walking surfaces, and spread deicer as quickly as possible after a winter storm. When walking on snow or ice is unavoidable workers should be trained to:

  • Wear footwear that has good traction and insulation (e.g. insulated and water-resistant boots or rubber over-shoes with good rubber treads)
  • Take short steps and walk at a slower pace to react quickly to changes in traction

RRB nominees confirmed; Amtrak board choices go back to president

Six nominees to transportation-related agencies were confirmed by the U.S. Senate via unanimous consent Jan. 2, including three Railroad Retirement Board members.

Johnathan Bragg, Thomas Jayne and Erhard R. Chorle were all confirmed to the RRB.

Bragg, the labor member of the board and national vice president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), will complete a term that expires this August and then commence a five-year term. Chorle, an Illinois attorney, will serve as RRB chairman with his term expiring in August 2022, and Thomas Jayne, a senior general attorney for BNSF, will represent management for a term that expires in August 2023.

Two vacancies on the Surface Transportation Board (STB) were also filled with the confirmations of Patrick Fuchs, who was a senior staff member of the Senate Commerce Committee, reporting to Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), and Martin J. Oberman, a former chairman of Metra, as members. They each will serve five-year terms. The board now will have three of its five seats filled.

Finally, Joel Szabat was confirmed as the federal DOT’s Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs.

FRA publishes minimum drug and alcohol testing rates for 2019

On Dec. 28, 2018, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published its determination of minimum random drug and alcohol testing rates for 2019 for covered service employees and Maintenance of Way (MOW) employees in the Federal Register.

FRA determined that the minimum annual random testing rates for covered service employees will stay at 25 percent for drugs and 10 percent for alcohol. The minimum rates for MOW employees will stay at 50 percent for drugs and 25 percent for alcohol.

To set its minimum testing rates each year, FRA examines data submitted to its Management Information System (MIS) for the last two complete calendar years.

FRA said that the rail industry’s random drug testing positive rate for covered service employees (employees subject to hours of service regulations) remained below 1.0 percent and 0.5 percent for alcohol testing violations for 2016 and 2017, allowing for the FRA administrator to determine that testing rates should remain the same. Testing for MOW employees began in June 2017 and the FRA stated that it needs more data before rates are adjusted.

It’s worth noting that the rates do not include data from testing for opioids as that testing began Jan. 1, 2018. Data from the testing for opioids will be included in next year’s rates.

The new rates for service and MOW employees are in effect Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019. It should be noted that because these rates set by the FRA represent minimums, railroads may choose to test above the set rates.

Click here to read the official notice published in the Federal Register.

Local chairperson speaks at rail trespassing/crossing fatality summit

Tom Cahill, local chairperson of LCA-049 (CSXT – B&O) and vice president of SMART Transportation Division Local 631 (Brunswick, Md.), was among the presenters at the first Trespasser and Grade Crossing Fatality Prevention Summit hosted by the Federal Railroad Administration in late October.

Cahill, a TD member since January 1997, started working on the railroad out of high school and described to the audience his experience during grade crossing collisions and trespasser incidents.

“None of the job interviews or job descriptions in the transportation sector ever covered what we’re talking about today,” Cahill said. “Nobody talked about the first time that you hit a car at a grade crossing or strike a trespasser that’s on the tracks.”

Those incidents, Cahill said, always have dual victims — the person or people who were struck and the train’s operating crew.

“I’ve been pretty lucky – some people have a trespasser injury or fatality every year,” Cahill said.

Tom Cahill speaks at the first Trespasser and Grade Crossing Fatality Prevention Summit in October.

Factors such as the location of the operator’s route and the time of day play roles in the frequency of trespasser and grade crossing incidents, but the biggest factor is a distracted public, Cahill said.

The usage of personal electronics has decreased situational awareness of trains by pedestrians to “dangerous levels,” he said. If a pedestrian is on or near tracks and distracted, the risk of an accident increases, especially if they’re wearing headphones or earbuds or looking at their smartphone.

“You’d be surprised by the number of incidents where a survivor would say they never saw or heard the approaching train,” Cahill said.

Trauma for crew

Cahill described to attendees two typical types of incidents that train crews experience – a person is struck and killed instantly or a person or people are struck and then are in need of immediate medical attention.

“In either case, after the train stops, it’s the conductor who is required to walk back to the carnage and do what he can to assist the injured and separate the train to open the road crossing for emergency responders’ vehicles,” he said.

It’s a 50-50 proposition whether the responders arrive on the side where the victim is, if they don’t, then treatment could end up being delayed and a life could be lost.

Separating a train to accommodate the emergency vehicles is always a two-person operation, Cahill said, because handbrakes must be applied to multiple cars by the conductor while the engineer remains in the cab to move the locomotive forward to make room for emergency vehicles.

Cahill made special mention that any reduction of a train’s crew to fewer than two people would likely reduce the survival rate of victims of trespasser-grade crossing incidents.

It also falls to the conductor, who usually sees the incident, to give first aid and to direct first responders.

After the incident, Cahill said, the engineer often will second guess whether the brakes were applied in a timely manner and whether the whistle was sounded in time or for a long enough period. While critical incident programs are offered by carriers to give people time off to recover and get counseling, the post-traumatic stress is difficult to overcome.

“It’s not always that easy,” Cahill said. “We take this home to our wives, to our mothers, to our children. Sometimes it’s hard for them to understand why we can’t just shake it off.”

He told the audience that he’s seen situations where over-the-road workers have been traumatized to the point where they will change to yard service to avoid going out on the road.

Cahill said that there tends to be an uptick of incidences in the fall and the holiday seasons.

The days getting shorter reduces visibility, depression may be setting in with some people with the approach of the holidays and winter.

“The suicides are the absolute worst for us because it’s generally not someone who sprints out at the last second and decides to take their life that way,” Cahill said.

He said often the person is already on the track, perhaps around a bend, awaiting the train.

“I’ve heard it too many times where the last thing the train crew sees or remembers is that person either looking up as the train approaches them or looking back as the train overtakes them,” Cahill said. “It’s very difficult for the train crew. There’s little you can do in those situations.

“It can take up to a mile for us to stop, and even if it doesn’t take that long, the damage is done as soon as we strike the person. It’s traumatic.

“We get back up and we go on and we continue out there. We just hope that we never have another one.”

What can be done?

Cahill presented a list of solutions endorsed by SMART TD to reduce the number of grade crossing and trespasser fatalities.

“We’re front line on this issue. SMART Transportation Division is committed to working with all the stakeholders to reduce crossing and trespassing fatalities,” Cahill said. “We want to be a part of identifying these areas and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to address and fix these incidents one by one to make things safer for the public and the train crews.”

Among them:

  • More supplemental safety measures such as four quadrant gates that close the entire crossing so cars cannot bypass the gates, even in poorly constructed intersections.
  • Use more channelization devices, such as concrete medians, to keep vehicles from crossing over to drive around gates.
    Install stationary horns at crossings that are pointed at motorists, an option that is louder and more focused in getting a driver’s attention.
  • Grade separations so that roads and tracks do not intersect are the best way to prevent crossing accidents, Cahill said. “It’s a money issue, but there’s nothing better than putting the motoring public above or below the railroad tracks,” he said.
  • Install more fencing, especially around rail yards and stations.
  • Permanently close as many grade crossings as possible.

The major factor is increasing public awareness, Cahill said. All grade crossing and trespasser fatalities are preventable, but he said that often the last thing that people are thinking about when they approach a railroad track is that there is a 20,000-ton freight train bearing down on them.

“It is critically important to educate the public on their obligations and how to stay safe when they’re around train tracks, rail yards and other places where they may be tempted to trespass on the railroad,” he said.

AP analysis: DOT miscalculated when considering brake rule

The Associated Press reported Dec. 20 that an analysis by the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) did not take into account up to $117 million in damage reductions when considering the repeal of a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rule requiring the installation of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on tanker cars.

The DOT repealed the 2015 rule requiring the installation of the advanced braking system on DOT-117 tank cars that carry explosive fuels in late 2017.

AP reviewed federal documents and found that the damage estimates used by the DOT varied widely between the Obama administration, which enacted the ECP rule, and the Trump administration, which repealed the rule.

“Under Obama, the Transportation Department determined the brakes would cost up to $664 million over 20 years and save between $470 million and $1.1 billion from accidents that would be avoided,” the AP’s Matthew Brown wrote. “The Trump administration reduced the range of benefits to between $131 million and $374 million. Transportation department economists said in their analysis that the change was prompted in part by a reduction in oil train traffic in recent years, which meant there would be fewer derailments. But in making their calculations, they left out the most common type of derailments in which spilled and burning fuel causes property damage but no mass casualties …

“Department of Transportation officials acknowledged the mistake after it was discovered by the AP during a review of federal documents, but said it doesn’t change their decision not to install the brakes,” Brown wrote.

SMART Transportation Division supported the ECP brake rule for the safety benefits that would have been gained and in Nov. 2017 National Legislative Director John Risch made detailed comments to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in support of ECP braking technology.

The Association of American Railroads had lobbied for repeal of the rule since its 2015 inception.

Read the complete Associated Press story.

NS asked to confer with STB on implementation of Precision Scheduled Railroading

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) chairwoman has asked Norfolk Southern’s CEO to keep the board apprised as the carrier begins to add elements of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) to its operations, Trains Magazine reports.

The letter from Ann Begeman, sent Nov. 27 to NS CEO Jim Squires, requests that the carrier begin weekly conference calls with the STB to report operational changes, the magazine reported in an article posted Nov. 29.

The requirement of updates from NS mirrors the approach STB has taken in handling another Class I that is trying out PSR.

Union Pacific (UP) announced in early autumn that it also had begun adopting aspects of PSR as part of its “Unified Plan 2020” initiative. PSR is a strategy by the late CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison that he implemented at both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific and requires cargo to be ready when rail cars arrive for loading or risk being left behind, among other aspects. Both Canadian carriers reported financial benefits after these implementations.

When Harrison moved to CSX in early 2017 and began adding PSR to that carrier’s operations, CSX received substantial criticism from shippers amid reports of service problems as the year progressed. This drew the attention of STB and resulted in a hearing before the STB to address the carrier’s difficulties.

To avoid a repeat of those problems encountered by CSX, a letter from the STB sent in September to UP sought weekly updates on the implementation.

Final FMCSA rule regarding operators with diabetes takes effect

A final rule published from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) permits medical examiners to allow commercial operators with insulated-treated diabetes to get behind the wheel without a months-long waiting period, Transport Topics reports.

The permission given by the rule, which went into effect in November, is contingent on a medical assessment and consultation between the operator’s physician and the carrier’s medical examiner.

“The rule eliminates a typical two- or three-month delay for diabetic drivers to navigate a bureaucratic process requesting an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration after being automatically disqualified for having the condition,” Transport Topics’ Eric Miller wrote.

The rule was initially published in the Federal Register in September.

“This final action delivers economic savings to affected drivers and our agency, and streamlines processes by eliminating unnecessary regulatory burdens and redundancy,” FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez said in September when the final rule was initially announced. “It’s a win-win for all parties involved.”

Miller’s article about the rule is available on the Transport Topics website.

FTA allocates $281 million in funding for five transit projects

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced a total of $281 million in additional Fiscal Year 2018 federal funding allocations to five transit projects in Arizona, California, Minnesota and Texas. Funding will be provided through FTA’s Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program.

“These significant investments in the public transit systems in five communities across the country will improve mobility for riders who depend upon public transit every day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

FTA has advanced funding for 17 new CIG projects throughout the nation under this administration since January 20, 2017, totaling approximately $4.8 billion in funding commitments. The present administration will have executed 13 CIG funding agreements by Dec. 31, 2018, for $3.3 billion in CIG funding, compared to 10 projects for $1.08 billion during the corresponding period (Jan. 20, 2009 – Dec. 2010) for the previous administration. In addition, with the allocations announced today, the present administration is committing to execute an additional four agreements for $1.5 billion in CIG funding if those projects continue to meet the CIG program requirements.

The projects included as part of the announcement are the Tempe Streetcar project in Arizona; the Los Angeles Westside Purple Line Section 3 project and San Diego Mid-Coast Light Rail project in California; the Minneapolis Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in Minnesota; and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Red and Blue Line Platform Extensions project in Texas.

FTA indicated its intent to fund the projects through an updated allocation notice for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 CIG funding appropriated by Congress. FTA is allocating approximately $281 million in appropriated FY 2018 CIG funding among the five projects, which either have a construction grant agreement or are nearing completion of all statutory and readiness requirements. All five projects have either completed or are in process of completing the rigorous CIG program steps as outlined in the law.

“FTA continues to evaluate and advance projects in the CIG program, considering each project on its individual merits while demonstrating good governance consistent with discretion afforded in federal law,” said FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams.

The CIG Program provides funding for major transit infrastructure capital investments nationwide. Projects accepted into the program must go through a multi-year, multi-step process according to requirements in law to be eligible for consideration to receive program funds.

New FY 2018 CIG Allocations

Tempe, AZ: Tempe Streetcar

The Tempe Streetcar is a three-mile streetcar with 14 stations and six vehicles that will connect downtown Tempe and Arizona State University. It also will connect with existing light rail serving Phoenix, Mesa and the airport. The total project cost is $201.9 million with $75 million in funding requested through the CIG Program. Upon final FTA approval of a construction grant agreement, the project will receive $25 million in FY 2018 CIG funds to complete the CIG funding request.

Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles Westside Purple Line Section 3 Project

The Los Angeles Westside Purple Line Section 3 project is a 2.6-mile heavy rail extension from Century City to Westwood and the Veterans Affairs hospital that includes two stations and 16 vehicles. The total project cost is $3.7 billion with $1.3 billion in funding requested through the CIG Program. Upon final FTA approval of a construction grant agreement, the project will receive $100 million in FY 2018 CIG funds.

San Diego, CA: San Diego Mid-Coast Corridor Light Rail Project

The San Diego Mid-Coast Corridor Light Rail project is a 10.92-mile light rail extension from downtown San Diego to the growing University City area. The extension will improve access to employment hubs and numerous educational and medical facilities north of downtown. FTA announced a $1.04 billion grant agreement for the $2.17 billion project in September 2016. The project will receive an additional $80 million in FY 2018 CIG funds.

Minneapolis, MN: Minneapolis Orange Line BRT Project

The Minneapolis Orange Line BRT project is a 17-mile BRT along Interstate 35 linking job centers including downtown, Best Buy Headquarters, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Target Corporation, and Southtown Shopping Center. The total project cost is $150.7 million with $74.08 million requested through the CIG Program. Upon final FTA approval of a construction grant agreement, the project will receive $74.08 million in FY 2018 CIG funds to complete the CIG funding request.

Dallas, TX: Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Red and Blue Line Platform Extensions Project

The DART Red and Blue Line Platform Extensions project will extend and modify platforms along the existing Red and Blue Lines to accommodate three-car trains with level boarding. The total project cost is $128.7 million with $60.76 million requested through the CIG Program. Upon final FTA approval of a construction grant agreement, the project will receive $2 million in FY 2018 CIG funds to complete the CIG funding request.

To date, FTA has allocated $1.86 billion of the $2.62 billion in FY 2018 CIG funds appropriated for projects by Congress. FTA will continue to consider additional FY 2018 CIG allocations, based on the merits of individual projects.

TD members: Help to preserve SMART’s pension!

Dear members of SMART Transportation Division:

Your help is needed to get the word out to certain members of Congress who want to take pension money from our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters and other union workers covered by multi-employer pension plans.

A decade ago, in the midst of the Great Recession, SMART and other multi-employer pension plans had the foresight to take steps to make sure they could meet their necessary obligations even during a period of financial collapse. These steps involved sacrifice on the part of these plan participants and resulted in solvent and stable pension plans able to meet their obligations for years to come.

However, there is a minority of pension plans covering about 1 million participants that did not make these changes, and these pensions could run out of money in the future. In addition, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), which serves as a safety net for financially troubled pensions, is having money troubles of its own. It could be insolvent within a decade.

To address these shortfalls, Congress has convened a Joint Select Committee to consider ways to resolve the potential insolvencies. But the draft plan being considered by this Congressional committee could punish healthy and solvent pensions, like the one covering SMART members, for the sake of solving the financial shortfalls of the failing pensions and the PBGC.

Politicians need to know that this plan is not acceptable, and we ask that you make it clear that another solution, one that does not take money away from solvent plans, must be found.

Our SMART brothers and sisters need our help, please call. You also can text PENSION to 21233 and to be connected directly to your congressional office. Message and data rates apply for that service.

Members of the Joint Select Committee:

  • Congressman Vern Buchanan – Florida 16th 202-225-5015
  • Congresswoman Virginia Foxx – North Carolina 5th 202-225-2071
  • Congressman Phil Roe – Tennessee 1st 202-225-6356
  • Congressman David Schweikert – Arizona 6th 202-225-2190
  • Congresswoman Debbie Dingell – Michigan 12th 202-225-4071
  • Congressman Richard E. Neal – Massachusetts 1st 202-225-5601
  • Congressman Donald Norcross – New Jersey 1st 202-225-6501
  • Congressman Bobby Scott – Virginia 3rd 202-225-8351
  • Senator Orrin Hatch – Utah (Co-Chair) 202-224-5251
  • Senator Lamar Alexander – Tennessee 202-224-4494
  • Senator Michael Crapo – Idaho 202-224-6142
  • Senator Rob Portman – Ohio 202-224-3353
  • Senator Sherrod Brown – Ohio (Co-Chair) 202-224-2315
  • Senator Heidi Heitkamp – North Dakota 202-224-2043
  • Senator Joe Manchin – West Virginia 202-224-3954
  • Senator Tina Smith – Minnesota 202-224-5641

A suggested script for your call to Congress:

My name is ___________ and I am a member of SMART Transportation Division Local ____. My union brothers and sisters in the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers participate in a multi-employer defined benefit pension fund.

I am calling today to voice my strong opposition to the current proposal of the Joint Select Committee. This proposal attempts to infuse money into the broken PBGC on the backs of healthy pension plans and forces the funding status of well-performing funds to go backward.

My union does not endorse this proposal, nor do I. We expect any friend of labor to stand with us on this position.

FRA issues Final Rule to promote safe and efficient high-speed passenger rail operations

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a final rule establishing modern, performance-based safety standards for railroad passenger equipment. The rule reinforces FRA’s commitment to safety while representing one of the most significant enhancements to the nation’s passenger rail design standards in a century. The rule paves the way for U.S. high-speed passenger trains to safely travel as fast as 220 miles per hour (mph).

“These new regulations were made possible by a wealth of FRA research, reinforcing our unwavering commitment to safety,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said. “FRA’s safety experts solicited input from industry stakeholders at numerous levels and took those ideas to develop standards supporting a new era in public transportation.”

The final rule defines a new category of high-speed rail operations and makes it possible for high-speed rail to utilize existing infrastructure, saving the expense of building new rail lines. These new ‘Tier III’ passenger trains can operate over this shared track at conventional speeds, and as fast as 220 mph in areas with exclusive rights-of-way and without grade crossings.

The final rule also establishes minimum safety standards for these trains, focusing on core, structural and critical system design criteria. FRA estimates that the rule will improve safety because of expected improvements made by the railroads to accommodate the operation of high-speed rail equipment in shared rights-of-way.

The final rule will be a deregulatory action under Executive Order (EO) 13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” The rule is expected to save more than $475 million in net regulatory costs.

Passenger train manufacturers across the globe have utilized innovative design and testing techniques for years, incorporating features such as crash energy management. Under FRA’s previous passenger equipment regulations, U.S. rail companies have had limited procurement options or have needed to petition FRA for waivers to use these newer technologies.

The final rule continues to define Tier I as trains operating in shared rights-of-way at speeds up to 125 mph, and it also allows state-of-the-art, alternative designs for equipment operating at these conventional speeds. Tier II trains are defined as those traveling between 125-160 mph, an increase from the previous 150 mph limit. This supports a competitive operating environment for U.S. companies seeking to offer travelers more passenger rail options. By enabling the use of advanced equipment-safety technologies, this final rule helps eliminate the need for waivers.

The final rule was developed with the assistance of the Engineering Task Force (ETF), under the auspices of FRA’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC). The ETF membership included FRA technical staff and representatives from railroads, rail labor organizations, manufacturers and others. The ETF evaluated production trends against the U.S. operating environment. The ETF recommended that FRA expand its traditional speed-and-safety rating system to three categories of passenger trains.

Click here to read the final rule as published by the Federal Register.