Pursuant to Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 211.45, Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Ronald L. Batory has determined that the extreme flooding currently occurring throughout the Midwest United States constitutes an “emergency event” as related to railroad operations.
In making this determination, the Administrator notes that the National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for areas throughout the Midwest and documented historic flooding throughout the region with rivers rising to historic levels in over 40 locations, causing power outages and breached dams and levees. The large amounts of snow and ice resulting from the region’s recent winter weather have melted and swelled rivers, creeks and other inland bodies of water throughout the region.
The Administrator also notes that a multitude of local governments have declared emergencies related to the flooding. Therefore, the Administrator has activated the Emergency Relief Docket (FRA-2019-0001) as of March 19, 2019 and the emergency relief provisions of 49 CFR § 211.45 are in effect.
In a victory for safety, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) denied a request by Kansas City Southern Railroad (KCSR) to outsource brake inspections to Mexico, the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) reports.
“In its decision, the FRA correctly told KCSR that their request – which TTD and our rail unions strongly opposed – was ‘not in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety.’ We could not agree more,” said TTD President Larry I. Willis.
In 2008, the FRA granted KCSR conditional regulatory relief of 49 C.F.R. § 232.205 (a)(1) and 49 C.F.R. Part 215. In lieu of conducting the required inspections at the International Bridge interchange, the FRA allowed KCSR to move freight cars received in interchange from KCSR’s Mexican operations across the U.S./Mexico border to KCSR’s yard in Laredo without performing a full Class I brake test at the border. One of the conditions set by the FRA was that KCSR must perform Class III brake tests (set and release) at the International Bridge interchange. In their petition to the FRA, dated May 31, 2018, KCSR requested that the Class III brake tests be performed at their Mexican Nuevo Laredo and Sanchez Yards instead of at the interchange.
In their request, KCSR maintained that it would be safer to perform the tests at the Mexican yards due to vandalism while the trains are stopped and blocked Mexican crossings, however, KCSR offered no specific evidence demonstrating any safety or security risks of performing the Class III tests at the interchange.
“FRA cannot approve KCSR’s request to move the test to its affiliate KCSM’s (Kansas City Southern de México Railway) yards 9 miles across the border within Mexico. …The Board is denying KCSR’s May 31, 2018, request to modify the existing relief in this docket because KCSR has not demonstrated that a modification is in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety,” the FRA’s Robert C. Lauby, associate administrator for railroad safety, said in his response letter to KCSR, dated March 8, 2019.
“The FRA’s decision is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” Willis said. “Last year, the FRA granted KCSR permission to operate trains with crews from Mexico to Laredo, nine miles across the border. This decision was made without input from the public or any guarantee U.S. safety standards are being met.”
SMART TD and BLET sent a joint letter to U.S. DOT opposing the decision to allow KCSR to operate Mexican train crews within the United States.
The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) on March 11 announced the railroad industry issues that the coalition of transportation unions, of which SMART Transportation Division is a member, will prioritize in the coming months.
Of the highest importance, the policy statement identified continuing the progression of safety measures, including national legislation.
“More can and must be done to further improve safety, minimize risk on railroads, and ensure frontline workers and the communities they operate in are fully protected,” the TTD said in its policy statement. “By reauthorizing the now-expired Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), closing perilous loopholes in existing regulations, and advancing common sense safety regulations that prioritize a vibrant and healthy rail workforce, Congress and the administration have an opportunity and obligation to ensure that the future of rail is safer than ever before.”
The policy statement also identified five key points of focus:
Addressing Fatigue with Common Sense Solutions
Single Crew Member Trains are Unsafe
Protecting Rail Workers from Assault
Ensure Cross Border Safety and Security
Working Together for a Safe and Risk Free Rail Industry
“Rail workers cannot be expected to do more with a reduced workforce, fewer resources, and less sleep while simultaneously improving safety and minimizing risks,” the TTD concluded. “Rail labor will work vigorously with Congress to ensure adequate safety measures are implemented through the reauthorization process and will challenge any attempts that are made at the expense of safety, workers’ rights and their jobs.”
The policy statement was released in conjunction with the TTD’s Executive Committee meeting in New Orleans.
Among other priorities, the coalition of transportation unions, of which SMART Transportation Division is a member, is calling for operators to remain on board automated vehicles to ensure safety, respond in emergencies and provide backup in case of technological failure, and for Congress to establish a fund that would supplement wages, health care costs and training or retraining programs of workers affected by automation.
“Driverless technology is coming at a time when the economy is balanced against working people, wages are stagnating, and workers are finding it harder and harder to get by. Not only do transit workers stand to see their jobs changed dramatically or automated away, but serious concerns about safety remain. So far, elected leaders do not seem to be taking these threats seriously,” said TTD President Larry I. Willis. “We cannot allow safety to be compromised or the good jobs in this sector to be steamrolled just so tech companies and Wall Street investors can have their way.”
The eight key policies are as follows:
Transit agencies must give workers advance notice before deploying automated vehicles (AVs).
The collective bargaining rights of transit workers must be preserved. Additionally, transit agencies must negotiate the use of automated technologies with their unions.
Automated transit vehicles must adhere to strict federal safety standards.
Drivers must remain onboard on automated vehicles, regardless of how far technology develops, to ensure safety, respond in emergencies and provide backup in case of technological failure.
Congress should establish a transportation workforce fund to help cover wages, health care costs, unemployment benefits and training or retraining programs for workers affected by driverless technology. This fund will be paid for through a mileage-based user fee of highly or fully automated transit vehicles.
Transit agencies wishing to use AVs must examine the impact they will have on transit workers and issue a report.
The U.S. Departments of Labor and Transportation should also examine the impacts automation has on transit ridership, capacity and employment. This includes examining the direct and indirect impacts automated ride-sharing or ride-hailing services have on transit services.
Before transportation agencies implement automated technology, they must issue a workforce training plan.
These policies on AVs and driverless technology were laid out at the TTD’s Executive Committee meeting in New Orleans.
Certain Union Pacific (UP) workers who were employed by the carrier from 1991 to 2017 might get some money back in their pockets thanks to a ruling made in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
If they meet certain criteria and were taxed on particular stock options or ratification bonuses, current and former UP workers will receive a refund after the appeals court sided with UP in the summer of 2017 and reversed a district court’s ruling in a fight over taxes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
At the heart of the matter was whether stock options or ratification bonuses received by UP workers should have been treated as taxable income under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act. The IRS argued successfully in district court that this was the case and received a summary judgment of about $75 million in taxes owed by the carrier. However, UP appealed the decision, and the appeals court reversed the district court’s ruling.
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by the IRS to hear the case, settling the matter in favor of UP and paving the way for the potential payouts.
In order to determine their eligibility for a refund, people who were employed by UP from 1991 to 2017 must file a consent form by visiting www.unionpacifictaxrefund.com. The consent form must be turned in by a March 12, 2019, deadline in order to receive a refund, which is scheduled to be disbursed between June and August 2019.
One of two crew members of the CSX freight train that was struck by the Amtrak Silver Star on Feb. 4, 2018, recounted the accident in a segment for CBS’s “60 Minutes” program that was broadcast Sunday night.
SMART Transportation Division Local 30 member Michael Cella, 36, the conductor on the Amtrak train, and engineer Michael Kempf, a former TD member, were killed in the accident near Cayce, S.C., that also injured 100 passengers.
While the accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has not been finalized, a misaligned switch has been widely reported as the cause of the collision, which occurred in dark territory.
Engineer Mark James told “60 Minutes” that he has experienced PTSD ever since the accident.
“This is something I’ll never, ever get over,” he told correspondent Lesley Stahl.
The segment also detailed features of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. Stahl was shown how PTC operates by a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) employee.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, also interviewed in the segment, criticized the Federal Railroad Administration and industry for the slow implementation of PTC.
“The regulator needs to step up to the plate and do their job and regulate,” he said.
Amtrak has informed federal, state and local officials along the route of the daily Chicago-to-Los Angeles Southwest Chief that it will provide matching funds to enable a federal grant to be awarded for safety and reliability upgrades in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, the carrier said in a news release Feb. 27.
The funds available to upgrade the route came after Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the FY2019 Appropriations Act, which included funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail, earlier in the month.
The legislation set aside at least $50 million of its National Network grant for improvements to the Southwest Chief route. Amtrak is using $3 million of these funds to match a $16 million grant successfully sought by these states, counties and cities and awarded to Colfax County, N.M. The grant and matching funds from the partners will result in an investment of more than $26 million in preserving the daily route from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Amtrak and BNSF Railway began community discussions regarding safety and other infrastructure improvements in 2011. Since then, more than $80 million has been committed from U.S. Department of Transportation grant programs, state and local governments, Amtrak and BNSF.
As reported in prior articles published on the SMART Transportation Division website and in the SMART TD News, Amtrak has been considering “bus bridges” on portions of the route or the potential discontinuation of the route altogether.
“We’re glad it’s getting funds to go through Colorado,” said Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith. “We’re supportive of all measures to continuing the Chief’s service through our state.”
Amtrak said in the release that it will use the newly available federal capital funding to continue needed work on the next route segment in New Mexico.
The carrier said in its release it is working on a long-term financial plan with state and local partners to address the unique challenges of the Southwest Chief route, particularly where Amtrak is the only user of BNSF tracks in Colorado and New Mexico.
WASHINGTON – The U.S Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued to Congress the first National Strategy to Prevent Trespassing on Railroad Property. The report examines the causal factors that contribute to trespassing incidents on railroad property, and responds to a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations request.
“Almost every trespasser death or injury is preventable and FRA is working to intensify our efforts,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “Now that we have examined current data on contributing factors of the problem, we are seeking to energize our state and local partners to implement solutions and save lives.”
In the report, the FRA examined trespasser casualties over a four-year period (Nov. 2013 to Oct. 2017) and identified the top 10 counties in the United States where the most pedestrian trespasser casualties occurred (Los Angeles, Calif.; Cook (Chicago), Ill.; San Bernardino, Calif.; Harris (Houston), Texas; Broward, Fla.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Fresno, Calif.; Riverside, Calif.; Contra Costa, Calif.; San Diego, Calif.). The report shows that, excluding suicides, 4,242 pedestrians were killed or injured while trespassing on railroad property nationwide during this time period.
Preventing trespasser casualties and injuries is a high priority for FRA as part of the Department’s safety mission. In October 2018, FRA convened a Trespasser & Grade Crossing Fatality Prevention Summit at its headquarters in Washington, DC. Secretary Chao, Administrator Batory, representatives from other DOT modal administrations, and key stakeholders from the rail industry, law enforcement, and the navigation industry attended the meeting to discuss strategies to reduce grade crossing and trespasser fatalities, as well as to solicit ideas to develop and implement a comprehensive national plan and strategy. FRA looks forward to coordinating and working with all stakeholders to prevent trespassing incidents, and this report is an important step forward in the continued effort to improve rail safety.
FRA’s national strategy to prevent trespassing on railroad property includes four strategic focus areas: data gathering and analysis, community site visits, funding and partnerships with stakeholders.
Data gathering and analysis of trespass incidents and close-calls will enable FRA to target its resources to trespassing “hot spots.” Conducting community site visits will help FRA to learn more about the specific local circumstances that contribute to trespassing and work with partners to help implement and evaluate targeted mitigation strategies. Requesting and providing funding will support community-based efforts to deter trespassing. Finally, building strong and enduring partnerships with communities, law enforcement, railroads and other organizations with a shared interest in saving lives will enable FRA to leverage and concentrate available resources, expertise and local knowledge to combat trespassing.
Short term targets for success include stakeholder engagement and implementation of strategies that save lives at trespassing “hot spots.” Over the long term, FRA will measure the success of this national strategy by how much trespassing incidents and casualties are reduced nationwide.
NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio (Feb. 13, 2019) — The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division (SMART TD) has filed with the Federal Elections Commission to change the name of its Political Action Committee. Formerly known as UTU PAC, the new name is the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division Political Action Committee (SMART TD PAC). This change is to align the name of the PAC with the merged organization while preserving its mission of support for transportation-related issues.
“Our Political Action Committee’s identity is now more in line with the status of our union after its merger with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association,” Transportation Division President John Previsich said. “But our PAC’s mission — to offer financial support to transportation labor-friendly political candidates who keep the interests of our union members and our alumni at heart — has not changed one bit.”
With more than 28,000 contributors from the ranks of Transportation Division members, alumni, officers and others, we continue to advocate for the issues that are front and center to our brothers and sisters: advancing two-person crew legislation for freight rail operations around the country and hours-of-service regulations for yardmasters; protecting our bus and transit members from assault on the job; and many other safety and transportation-related issues. Our efforts are critical to assuring a safe and healthy place to work and securing the future for your family.
President Previsich encourages every member and alum to become a PAC member. “The money you donate — no matter what amount — helps us in that goal,” Previsich said. “Give what you can, and you will be doing your part to help our union support candidates who are in favor of common-sense transportation legislation.”
SMART Transportation Division leaders support the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act (H.R.1139) introduced by U.S. Reps. Grace F. Napolitano (D – Calif.) and Congressman John Katko (R – New York) on Feb. 11 that would make the workplace safer for bus operators and commuter rail workers nationwide.
“While most interactions between SMART TD members and the passengers they serve are peaceful encounters, too often that is not the case,” SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said. “Our members deserve the protections necessary to ensure their safety, health and well-being. This legislation will require transit agencies to develop risk-reduction programs to make bus and transit services safer for TD members, riders and pedestrians alike.”
Incidents of assault on public transit occur in the United States frequently and threaten the safety of SMART TD members, the riding public and pedestrians. Countless news reports involving violent acts by unruly passengers have left SMART TD bus operators and transit employees as victims of violence.
“You name it — our members have encountered it and have had to deal with these gruesome, violent occurrences. Yet we’ve seen little done about it. This legislation fulfills the need for adequate driver shields and mandatory de-escalation training,” said SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch. “Thank you to Representatives Napolitano and Katko for refining this important piece of legislation and for being steady in their continuing commitment to making public transportation safer in the United States.
“Our pledge is to continue to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure transit workers and those who use public transit receive the protection they deserve.”
The Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act requires that both rail and bus transit agencies (those not covered by the FRA) create risk-reduction plans to protect operators within two years of the bill’s passage and that the agencies submit those plans to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for approval.
Some components of these plans could include physical barriers to prevent operator assaults, de-escalation training for workers, driver-assistance technology to reduce accidents, ergonomic improvements to prevent operator injuries and modified specifications or retrofits to reduce visibility impairments for operators.
The bill also requires that any assault on a transit or bus operator be reported to the DOT’s National Transit Database.
“There is no higher priority than operator safety. Too often we’ve seen reports of drivers getting assaulted and having their lives irreversibly changed simply because they were behind the controls doing their jobs,” said Calvin Studivant, SMART TD Bus Department vice president. “The risk-reduction programs and other safety requirements that this bill puts in place will help to keep our members safe.”
The Bus Operator and Pedestrian Protection Act (H.R. 6016), a similar bill introduced by Napolitano and Katko last year, picked up co-sponsors from both parties in the U.S. House and received the endorsement of SMART TD and other transportation unions. U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland introduced a companion bill to the 2018 legislation in the U.S. Senate and is doing the same with H.R. 1139.
The Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act continues to build upon these efforts to eliminate bus and transit operator assaults, thus protecting workers, the riding public and pedestrians. It likewise receives SMART TD’s full backing.
President Donald Trump today (Jan. 31) signed an executive order, “Strengthening Buy American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects,” encouraging the use of U.S.-made materials when undertaking infrastructure projects that get federal funding.
The goal is to boost the purchase of domestic products, such as aluminum, steel, iron and concrete in federally funded projects to repair and improve sewers, roads and other vital parts of the country’s network.
The president’s order falls short of a mandate and does not set required levels to be purchased or create an enforcement mechanism.
A previous executive order, signed April 17, 2017, took a similar route, and this order signed Jan. 31 is intended to fill “gaps,” according to a presidential economic adviser.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has posted new frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the agency’s standard for respirable crystalline silica in general industry.
OSHA developed the FAQs in consultation with industry and union stakeholders to provide guidance to employers and employees on the standard’s requirements, such as exposure assessments, regulated areas, methods of compliance and communicating silica hazards to employees. The questions and answers are organized by topic and include an introductory paragraph that provides background information about the regulatory requirements.
Silica dust, when inhaled, affects the lungs and can be a contributor to the development of lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in workers. It is of potential concern to rail workers as the dust created from the passage of trains over track ballast containing silica could become airborne and be inhaled.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.