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)
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.
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. The 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. See49 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.
Qualification and certification of locomotive engineers; miscellaneous revisions (final rule) – published 12/15/2020
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.
This regulation is effective January 14, 2021.
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). In 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.
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.
Positive train control systems (notice of proposed rulemaking) – published 12/18/2020
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.
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.
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.
Fatigue risk management programs for certain passenger and freight railroads (notice of proposed rulemaking) – published 12/22/2020
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.
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.
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.
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). That 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). As 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. As 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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Veterans Day marks the end of World War I — that fierce global conflict that cost millions of lives – and while the memory of that conflict fades further into history, the need for the heroism and sacrifice on the part of our military personnel endures more than a century later.
Our military members uplift and shield us, and our veterans are a source of patriotism and pride for what they have done and what they contribute to our organization. They deserve our thanks and recognition as SMART-TD members and as American heroes.
I myself am an U.S. Army veteran who served for three years during the Gulf War era. One of the key goals of my administration is to give those members who are military veterans the recognition that they deserve for answering the high call of serving our country and to defend the freedoms that we enjoy.
To that end, we continue to urge those who served to let us know the details of their military careers via the SMART-TD Member Info Update form on our website. We are working to highlight our continuing work to recognize and amplify the importance of veterans to our union in our organizing efforts. We also are moving quickly with special plans to pay tribute and highlight members’ military service and continue to update our Veteran Services page with resources that could help our American heroes.
Each and every veteran deserves to feel a sense of appreciation today on this Veterans Day.
On behalf of SMART-Transportation Division, to all U.S. military veterans, we thank you once again for your service.
President — Transportation Division
U.S. Army, 1988-1991
SMART-TD retiree Gregg Weaver, left, and his wife Carol wear SMART “Blue Collar Biden” shirts as they watch Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speak Saturday, Oct. 24, in Bristol, Pa.
SMART representatives had a front-row seat as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden spoke Oct. 24 at Bristol Community College in Bristol, Pa.
SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and Gregg Weaver, a retired TD Local 838 member and former Local 1390 officer who served as a conductor for many Amtrak rides taken by Biden, were in the front row at the “drive-in” rally that was broadcast live on CNN from the town outside Philadelphia.
“What we heard from Joe Biden today was a concrete plan,” Sabol said. “He has a strategy to address the virus. He has a plan to repair the economy. He has ideas and has a strategy to make things better going forward with a focus on transportation and infrastructure.”
Weaver, who worked the rails on both the passenger and freight side with Conrail for 42 years, said Biden has proven his concern for the working people. Weaver’s son, Blake, a Local 838 member, followed in his father’s path and has been an Amtrak conductor for more than 16 years.
Gregg Weaver, a retiree from TD Local 838, and his son Blake, a member of TD Local 838 and an Amtrak conductor, attend Joe Biden’s rally on Saturday, Oct. 24.
“Everybody wants to talk to him (Joe Biden) after the speech – there were politicians, the big-money donors who have millions,” Weaver said. “He didn’t go after the big donors. He picked a blue-collar working man to come talk to him. He has time for us.”
Biden addressed the COVID pandemic at the outset, mentioning that the country had set a record for daily cases with more than 80,000. The Biden campaign has observed social-distancing and mask protocols at its rallies to avoid the transmission of COVID-19. Most of the attendees participated in the rally from their cars, honking their horns in unison to show appreciation during the speech.
“I will shut down the virus, not the economy,” Biden said. “We can build back better.”
With just days until Election Day, Biden’s speech touched upon a number of union-related issues, such as infrastructure, the gigantic $1.5 trillion corporate tax cuts in late 2017 that remain the signature legislative accomplishment of the current administration and the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
“This guy’s not on the level. He thinks Wall Street built thus country,” Biden said. “You and I know who built this country … working people built it — the middle class, and unions built the middle class.”
In the April 2018 SMART Transportation Division News reported how Class I rail carriers reaped great benefits from those Republican tax cuts.
Union Pacific (UP) received a $5.8 billion boost. CSX saved $3.6 billion, Norfolk Southern (NS) about $3.48 billion and Kansas City Southern (KCS) $488 million. BNSF, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, reported in its Form 10-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it received a tax benefit of $7.4 billion. Savings for the two Canadian-based Class I railroads also increased, reported at $1.4 billion (U.S.) for Canadian National (CN) and about $406 million (U.S.) for Canadian Pacific.
“Vice President Biden understands where working people are coming from. He’s been there. He knows what kind of struggle the working people of country are going through,” Sabol said. “With Biden, SMART members, labor and the middle class will absolutely have a seat at the table.”
Today, thousands of SMART members and other unionized essential frontline employees still are waiting for additional assistance and protections that are being blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. For others, enhanced unemployment and sickness benefits that were in effect and a lifeline early in the pandemic have expired.
“How many [parents] a day can look at their kids and say with confidence, ‘everything’s going to be OK’ and mean it?” Biden asked. “Times are hard. Unemployment is way up. Folks are worried about making their next rent or mortgage payment, whether their health care will be ripped away in the middle of a pandemic. Worried about sending their kids to school … worried about not sending them to school.
“They see folks at the top doing much better while the rest are wondering who’s looking out for me. That’s Donald Trump’s presidency.”
Legislation to help union workers such as the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act has been stopped by Trump and his Republican allies, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate.
Attendees of the Joe Biden rally in Bristol take a group photo before the former vice president’s speech. From left are Mary Kate Weaver; Carol Weaver; TD Local 838 retiree Gregg Weaver; Tyler Hutchinson; SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and TD Local 838 member Blake Weaver.
Weaver reminds his SMART-TD brothers and sisters that railroaders especially need to keep in mind that their benefits are vulnerable to the whims of Capitol Hill.
A vote for Trump and for his Republican allies is opening the door for workers’ health care, jobs and pensions to be targeted, he said. Children would be off their parents’ health coverage at age 18 instead of being covered until age 26 under the Affordable Care Act.
Weaver said a vote for Democrats would protect union jobs and railroaders. Biden would not be hostile to Amtrak, whereas Trump and Republicans have habitually tried to cut funding for the national passenger rail network.
“Joe Biden has got their backs. He’s not going to make things worse for them,” Weaver said. “There will be a lot less fighting with the Democrats than with the Republicans.”
Biden gave a brief outline of his economic recovery plan — taxes would not be raised on any family making less than $400,000, while making corporations pay their fair share.
“It’s time for working people and the middle class to get tax relief,” Biden said.
He also said his administration would focused on job creation and education.
“We’re going to create millions of union jobs modifying the infrastructure to modernize it, “ he said.
Biden also emphasized in the speech that he is not banning fracking, an accusation leveled by Trump lately on the campaign trail.
Amtrak’s financial situation and the freight rail industry’s continued use of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practices were the focus of a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing Oct. 21.
Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn repeated his plea for almost $5 billion in emergency funding to help the nation’s passenger carrier weather the continued downturn in ridership caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The carrier has made drastic long-distance service cuts, going from daily to three trips per week on many routes. Furloughs for almost 2,000 Amtrak employees are scheduled to take effect in November.
“Virtually all of the CARES Act money has been spent,” Flynn told the committee. “These workforce adjustments are essential with current financial funding.”
A number of legislative actions, including the HEROES Act and the INVEST in America Act, while passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, have been stalled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the GOP-controlled Senate. The emergency funding provided by such legislation would help the carrier rebound, Flynn said.
“Once the pandemic eases, Amtrak plans to grow,” he said.
A second panel featured a discussion of PSR.
Rudy Gordon, CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, expressed concerns from a shipper perspective about the redeployment of furloughed railroad workers, saying that he fears delays in service and shipments on the part of rail carriers when the economy rebounds.
PSR has caused “a tipping point” at the expense of customer service, Gordon said, and said that if rail service erodes further at the expense of the carriers obtaining lower operating ratios (ORs) that the Surface Transportation Board should intervene.
“Across the sector, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, threatening both the health and livelihoods of employees,” Willis stated. “At the same time, freight railroads, at the insistence of Wall Street investors and hedge fund managers, have pursued operating practices that undermine basic tenets of rail safety, ask frontline workers to do more with less, and threaten the reliable and efficient customer service that should be the hallmark of this industry.”
The lone labor representative invited to testify in person was Dennis Pierce, president of the Teamsters Rail Conference.
Other industry stakeholders appearing were:
Paul Tuss, executive director, Bear Paw Developing Corporation and Member, Montana Economic Developers Association
Frank Chirumbole, vice president global supply chain, Olin Corporation on behalf of American Chemistry Council
Kent Fountain, chairman, National Cotton Council
Ian Jefferies, president and chief executive officer, Association of American Railroads
Earlier this week marked the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act. The major railroads are celebrating this anniversary. That is not surprising because deregulation of the railroad industry, along with post-Staggers government approval of mergers and control transactions have produced a highly concentrated, but lightly regulated, industry. It has produced a 20-year run of historic profits for the railroads, and record returns for their shareholders. In the recent past, shippers had no complaints about Staggers because shipping rates declined in real dollars; but they now worry about the quality of service and railroad responsiveness to their needs: As a concentrated, but deregulated, industry, it has little need to answer to its customers.
This is a particularly inopportune time to celebrate passage of the Staggers Act because, in recent years, finance interests have led or pressured the railroads to exploit the deregulatory regime formulated when they were in economic distress to implement so-called “precision scheduled railroading” and other cost-cutting measures that have eroded service and eliminated tens of thousands of good-paying railroad jobs.
One group of major industry stakeholders never celebrated the effects of the Staggers Act: railroad workers. Between the passage of the Act and completion of the major merger and control transactions, rail industry employment was substantially reduced (from about 500,000 in 1980 to about 250,000 in the early 2000s).
Among other things, the Staggers Act facilitated sales of rail lines to smaller railroads that employed fewer workers, paid less and had less-beneficial work rules. Those sales were accomplished without traditional employee protections. At first, the Interstate Commerce Commission approved these types of sales after concluding that the lines to be sold were likely to be abandoned. But then it began to approve sales of what it called “marginally profitable” lines (which, by definition, were somewhat profitable). The major rail carriers protected their own interests in these transactions; they placed restrictions on the sales (physical or contractual) so that the purchaser railroads could interchange traffic only with the seller carriers; that way the major carriers divested themselves of less-profitable lines which gathered local freight, while ensuring that they retained the long haul movement of the freight generated on those lines. Rail Labor characterized these as sham transactions, but the ICC approved them, citing the Staggers Act and the deregulatory spirit of the Act. The ICC also allowed companies that owned existing rail carriers to acquire new lines that often connected with the lines of their existing subsidiaries without employee protections that were required when rail carriers acquired lines from other rail carriers by using the scheme of creation of new subsidiaries that the ICC treated as non-carriers since they were new corporations, even though they were commonly owned and controlled with existing carriers.
In approving the major merger and control transactions of the 1990s that reduced the number of Class I carriers to a mere handful, the ICC and Surface Transportation Board relied on Staggers Act amendments and the deregulatory mandate of the Staggers Act. Those transactions were approved based on the notion that shippers and the public would benefit from the consolidations. The railroads asserted, and the ICC and STB agreed, that mega-carriers would provide better and faster service through longer-end-to-end runs, reduced interchanges, and greater system velocity; that efficiencies would be achieved that would result in savings that would be passed along to shippers and the public in general; and that the economies of scale available to larger carriers would allow for increased investment in rail infrastructure.
During the same period that Congress and the ICC and STB deregulated the railroads and facilitated and approved consolidations as in the public interest, the agencies dramatically increased their regulation of Rail Labor by allowing the merging and commonly controlled rail carriers to use agency processes to gain dramatic changes in rates of pay, rules and working conditions outside the procedures of the Railway Labor Act. When the final big control transaction had been completed, railroad industry employment had been effectively halved, and rates of pay, rules and working conditions were forcibly and dramatically changed under the auspices of ICC and STB authorizations.
In the post-Staggers minimal-regulation environment, after the big merger and control transactions were consummated, the profits of the new mega-carriers soared. And for a while, the railroads followed-through on their representations that service would improve, and infrastructure investments would increase. But several years ago, hedge funds and private equity interests took note of railroad profitability and the very light nature of the regulatory regime for such a concentrated industry. There were attempted hostile takeovers of major railroads, and so-called activist investors increased their stakes in railroads; these financial interests promised to institute practices to reduce operating ratios (costs relative to expenses) and increase profits by dramatically cutting costs and service, by focusing on easier-to-serve/high-profit ratio customers, eliminating flexibility in pick-ups and deliveries of rail cars, requiring customers to conform to rigid schedules and lengthening trains (with some as long as 3 miles). This was accomplished through the so-called Precision Scheduled Railroading operating method. At the same time, capital infrastructure work was reduced to further improve operating ratios. As rail carriers that pursued this path saw their operating ratios decline, and their stock prices increased, other railroads adopted similar business models. Shipper complaints escalated. The STB held hearings and tinkered with complaint programs, but it generally was of the view that there was little it could do under the post-Staggers de-regulatory regime. In the meantime, rail employment again took a precipitous decline, from about 245,000 in 2015 to under 200,000 in January 2020. The profits of the major railroads have skyrocketed over this several-year period.
At the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Act, members of Congress, the STB and industry stakeholders should consider whether the current regulatory regime that was developed when the railroads were in financial turmoil and well before agency approval of the big merger and control transactions, makes sense today. Consolidation of the industry was approved because the transactions were deemed to be in the public interest. And with those approvals and the exclusivity that flows from holding an operating certificate comes the responsibility to provide adequate and responsive service. But the financial interests that are currently driving the industry have ignored those aspects of the approvals and the certificates. While a return to the heavy regulatory scheme developed before railroads had competition from aviation and trucking on the federal interstate highway system would not be appropriate, a regulatory approach recalibrated to recognize the reality of the industry as it is today is warranted.
This recalibration is necessary to ensure that rail customers receive adequate and responsive service, and that the industry continues to provide good jobs for railroad workers.
American Train Dispatchers Association Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/IBT Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division/IBT Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 19 International Association of Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Division International Brotherhood of Boilermakers International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International Association of Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division National Conference of Firemen and Oilers 32BJ/SEIU Transportation Communications Union (TCU/IAM) Transport Workers Union of America