CLEVELAND, Ohio (May 27, 2020) — The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) extended safety waivers granted to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic recently, again favoring the material concerns of the carriers over the safety of America’s rail workers and of the general public.
The extension runs until the earlier of when the emergency declaration is lifted, or 60 days from letters dated May 21 to the AAR and ASLRRA by the agency governing safety on America’s railroads. The broad waivers concerning numerous safety regulations and training requirements were initially set to expire beginning May 24, 29 and June 9.
The leaders of two of America’s largest rail unions, the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), objected to the lengthening of these waivers that they had described as “alarming” when first initiated.
“The agency continues a pattern of FRA appeasement to the carriers,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce. “Essential safety tasks once again are being deferred with regulators’ blessings while the agency could not be bothered to enact an emergency order to hold carriers accountable to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention minimum health and safety standards for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The waiver extension, granted nine days after the AAR’s petition to renew, cover regulations governing:
Periodic track inspections
Locomotive and conductor certification
Conversely, SMART-TD and the BLET jointly petitioned FRA to respond to the pandemic multiple times in March seeking emergency orders to improve working conditions and to better protect workers from potential infection by requiring carriers to adhere to basic CDC protocols. The agency, however, declined to put its full regulatory power on the side of protecting essential transportation workers.
“The continued pattern of rubber-stamping requests by carriers while unabashedly coming up short for the essential workers who have continued to show up and work through the pandemic shows where FRA’s priorities are,” the union presidents said.
The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 22, 2019) – Two large railroad unions in the United States have pledged their joint support for the Safe Freight Act legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Don Young (R – Alaska).
The Safe Freight Act (H.R. 1748) requires that two certified crew members operate freight trains on U.S. rails and has the backing of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
“SMART Transportation Division has been working tirelessly to promote safety in the railroad industry, and there is no doubt that the only safe rail operation is one that includes at a minimum a certified conductor and a certified locomotive engineer,” SMART TD President John Previsich said. “A clear message must be sent to our lawmakers and to the general public that multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities. I would like to thank Congressman Young for his leadership on this critical issue as we continue to improve safety on our nation’s railroads for both our members and for the general public.”
“This is necessary safety legislation to protect railroad workers and the American public,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “While the railroad industry talks of one-person train crews and even autonomous trains, the 2013 tragedy of Lac-Megantic is justification enough that we need two sets of eyes and ears in the locomotive cab.”
Recent well-publicized rail accidents in other nations involving trains with one or no crew members show how smaller crews increase the risk of catastrophe in railroad accidents.
In September 2018, an autonomous runaway TasRail train reached speeds of 31 mph before it derailed in the Tasmanian city of Devonport, injuring two people. The train had become unresponsive to remote control commands, including the train’s emergency stop feature.
On Nov. 5, 2018, a runaway BHP ore train of 268 cars with no one aboard reached speeds of 62 mph before it was forcibly derailed in Western Australia. The approximately 1.9-mile-long train loaded with iron ore was operated by a lone crew member who had left the locomotive to inspect an issue with the brakes when the train began moving.
And finally, an oil train with a single-person crew in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, rolled into the center of the town July 6, 2013, after its brakes disengaged. The resulting derailment touched off an inferno that killed 47 people and destroyed the town center.
In the United States, labor unions and others concerned with safety on the United States’ 140,000 miles of rail are seeking to prevent such events from happening. Legislation setting crew size at two people aboard has passed in five states. A two-person crew bill backed by both the SMART TD and BLET unions (H.B. 1034) was signed into law March 21 by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
“Automation of cars, buses, aircraft and trucks are being addressed by legislation and in regulation by the federal government and many states. It’s time the federal government provided some oversight on railroads,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said. “Congressman Young’s bill is a first step, and we thank him for his leadership on this. The safety of the public and our members depend on this.”
“Safety is non-negotiable, and this legislation is about railroad safety,” BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman said. “The members of the BLET and SMART TD are highly trained professionals who have dedicated their lives to performing their jobs as safely as possible, and we thank Congressman Young for his ongoing support and for introducing H.R. 1748.”
This national legislation introduced by Young, a longtime advocate of railroad safety, is a common-sense step toward making our nation’s rails safer for workers and the public alike. It has the full endorsement of both unions.
H.R. 1748 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
### The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
CLEVELAND, Ohio (Sept. 5, 2018) – The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division (SMART TD) have filed a joint petition challenging actions of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that allow crews comprised of Mexican nationals employed by a Mexican rail company to operate trains across the United States border and into the U.S. instead of American crews employed by American railroads.
Since July 9, the FRA has allowed foreign crews from Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM), a railroad based in Mexico and subsidiary of Kansas City Southern (KCS), to cross into the U.S. and run trains on the Texas Mexican Railway Company (“Tex-Mex”) line in Laredo, Texas. BLET and SMART TD maintain that this violates long-established federal laws and regulations regarding safety, training, crew qualifications and conduct of locomotive engineers and conductors operating freight trains in the U.S. The FRA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which also is named as a respondent in the petition.
“The Petitioners challenge this conduct as arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, in excess of the Respondents’ statutory authority and otherwise contrary to law,” the petition states.
There has been no order, waiver, public notice or documentation published by the FRA regarding the actions being challenged. The unions seek to set aside the agencies’ actions and to require that they divulge all internal records detailing the authorization of the practice, including the vetting of the non-U.S. crewmembers by FRA, and the decision to allow KCSM, a foreign company not incorporated in the United States, to operate across the border into this country.
“FRA’s conduct has generated significant safety concerns,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “U.S. crews are held to the highest safety standards while crews coming in from Mexico are held to much lower standards in terms of certification, testing and operating experience. This degradation in safety is unacceptable. Beyond that, while American companies outsourcing jobs to foreign countries is nothing new, all Americans should be angered by this job giveaway on our own soil.”
“We deem it to be unsafe, we deem it to be a threat to American jobs. FRA has not been able to answer simple questions regarding certification and qualification of the foreign crews. Nor have they explained in any way how they plan to enforce American safety rules to hold the foreign crews to the same high safety standards that govern all American railroad workers,” SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich said. “We are not going to let FRA stand aside and ignore their responsibilities while a Class I carrier allows foreign crews to cross the border and jeopardize the safety of our members and the American public.”
The petition was filed in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
On Friday, October 14, 2016, SMART Union united with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), in a joint statement to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that voiced their collective opposition to a recent CSX petition requesting permission from the FRA to remove approximately 125 signals from a stretch of track in Michigan.
Citing reasons of crew safety and public safety, SMART Transportation Division (SMART TD) President, John Previsich and SMART TD Michigan State Legislative Director, Jerry Gibson, worked with SMART and SMART TD’s legislative offices and and leaders from the BLET, BWED and BRS in requesting that the FRA deny CSX’s request.
“Considering the number of residents, homes, schools and churches along this line, and the safety risk involved if these signals are removed, we oppose this request and ask the FRA to deny this wavier,” stated SMART Transportation Division President, John Previsich.
Gibson emphasized safety concerns and also connected the dots between the outcome of the presidential election and future decisions made by the FRA and other president-appointed federal industry boards.
“The SMART TD Michigan State Legislative Board opposition is based on the reason signal systems are put into place: Employee and public safety. As a former qualified engineer and conductor on this line, the territory has a winding path with poor long distance sightlines, making the operable signal system that is currently in place critical to crew and public safety.
“While many may not see the direct correlation between this issue and voting for those candidates endorsed by the SMART TD National Legislative office and State boards, it is a great example. The President of the United States appoints the Director of the Federal Railroad Administration, Surface Transportation Board, Railroad Retirement Board, Department of Labor, and Department of Transportation, to name a few – all of which have the power to determine if these requests are approved or denied,” he stated.
Gibson also added: “If we cast our vote in the wrong direction, the outcome of many issues that directly affect rail labor and their families with be compromised,”
To read the joint labor statement to the FRA, please click here.
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) President Dennis Pierce, issued a joint statement, following their submission of their comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on train crew size.
“Operating freight trains with one-person train crews is unsafe and must be prohibited. That is the message we delivered yesterday in the comments filed with federal rail safety regulators,” Previsich and Pierce said.
“Our comments provide a clear rationale for the FRA to finalize a rule this year and to close loopholes included in the agency’s initial proposed rule that could permit the limited use of one-person crew freight operations.”
On Wednesday, June 15, SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) submitted their joint comments on the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) proposed two-person crew rule.
While both unions strongly support the proposed rule, they suggested in their comments that the rule be made stronger before being made final.
“We firmly believe that the only safe way to operate a train is with a crew of at least two people – a federally certified locomotive engineer and a federally certified conductor,” the unions emphasized.
In a joint letter, SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch and Brotherhood of Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman, submitted a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) withdrawing their previous letter dated Jan. 12 requesting that the FRA make a final rule mandating uniform warning speed signs in advance of speed restrictions. Risch and Tolman still ask that speed signs be standardized in dimensions, conspicuity, color and distance ahead of a speed restriction, but are asking that this issue be presented to the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) first. Click here to read Risch’s and Tolman’s original letter dated Jan. 12. Click here to read the withdrawal letter dated Feb. 26.
(The following is a joint statement by Dennis R. Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and John Previsich, President, SMART Transportation Division, regarding questions that have arisen since the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015.)
CLEVELAND, May 19 — Members of BLET’s Safety Task Force and SMART Transportation Division’s National Safety Team, in addition to representatives from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference (BMWED), are working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to assist in the investigation of the catastrophic May 12 derailment of Amtrak Train 188.
Significant progress has been made in understanding how the accident occurred on May 12. That portion of the investigation is not yet complete, however, and even more work needs to be done to determine why the events of that tragic night transpired the way they did.
BLET and SMART TD do not make official comments about any ongoing NTSB investigation. Due to the number of press inquiries concerning issues not under investigation, however, we are providing the following information on why Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor are manned by a lone engineer in the control cab and why Positive Train Control (PTC) has not been installed on the Corridor. The answers to both questions begin with the United States Congress.
Why a One-Person Train Crew? In 1981, Congress passed legislation (the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981) that ended the previous Conrail requirement that there be a second crew member in the control cab of commuter rail trains on the Northeast Corridor. Armed with that legislative precedent — and mindful of where its funding originates — Amtrak has since 1983 refused to crew Northeast Corridor trains with more than one employee in the cab – the locomotive engineer. Although BLET and SMART TD have steadfastly maintained that there should be two crew members in the cab of all trains to ensure public safety, only Congress can change the 1981 legislation that reduced crew size on the Northeast Corridor. But this is only one piece of a very large, complex puzzle.
Why No Positive Train Control? On the heels of another catastrophic railroad accident in Chatsworth, Calif., the federal government mandated in 2008 that Positive Train Control (PTC) be put in effect by the end of this year. That was seven years ago. Even with that mandate in place, and with the exception of some railroads such as BNSF Railway, the industry at large has spent the interim finding reasons to avoid implementing PTC technology. They have created the situation about which they all now complain — they say they cannot meet the December 31, 2015 deadline. Each death caused by the delay of PTC implementation is one too many, yet Congress is preparing to consider a blanket 5-year extension to 2020. This is most certainly not in the public interest.
Since 2005, the NTSB has completed 16 investigations of railroad accidents that could have been prevented or mitigated with PTC. These 16 accidents claimed 52 lives — many being BLET and SMART TD members — and injured 942 people, with damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. NTSB has publicly stated that the accident on May 12, 2015 was also PTC preventable. There is no disagreement over the value of PTC technology.
That said, there is no technology available today that can ever safely replace a second crew member in the cab of the locomotive. The only thing on a locomotive that is not a machine is the crew. The uncontrolled external environment in which trains are operated along with regulatory and operational demands of a safe transportation service demand a crew of at least two fully trained and qualified employees in the control cab of every train. PTC is only a safety overlay that ensures a safer operation, and no technology can replace the level of safety provided when two crew members are on board and can serve as a check and balance to one another.
Even with all the safety-related technology that the government has mandated on commercial airlines, the public would never accept an airline operation with a single person in the cockpit. There is no reason that rail employees and rail passengers’ lives should be viewed any differently.
Contrary to what some in government may say, the only place that crew size and PTC do connect is when it comes to funding. That is especially true in the case of Amtrak, because the government has woefully underfunded Amtrak since its inception. Additional crew members and new technology both cost money, and so long as those in Congress see fit to underfund the operation, they undermine their own mandate and shortchange the safety of the traveling public.
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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents more than 55,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The SMART?Transportation Division is headquartered in the Cleveland suburb of North Olmsted, Ohio. It is a broad-based, transportation labor union representing about 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus, mass transit and airline workers in the United States. It is a division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers based in Washington, D.C.
A SMART Transportation Division member was seriously injured and a BLET engineer was killed when a taxi hired by Union Pacific Railroad to transport the men rolled off the side of a freeway near the Interstate 680/Interstate 80 interchange, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The accident happened just after 1 a.m. this morning (March 17) in Fairfield, Calif.
Scott Moffitt, 51, who was seated in the left rear seat, was injured and engineer Alexander Sassman, 51, who was seated in the right rear seat, was killed. The taxi driver was also injured. Moffitt and the driver were taken to NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield.
Moffitt is a member of Transportation Division Local 1570 at Roseville, Calif.
The taxi was transporting the two UP employees from San Jose to Roseville.
CLEVELAND, Dec. 17 — Top leaders of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) announced today that their organizations will be participating with four other rail unions in coordinated bargaining in the upcoming round of national negotiations.
On Dec. 8, 2014, BLET general chairmen and SMART–TD general chairpersons each served bargaining notices on their respective railroads, including identical notices related to health and welfare and related benefits.
“Today we build on the successes of joint bargaining during the past two national rounds,” said BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce. “Now more than ever before it is imperative that the unions representing railroad operating crafts sit side-by-side at the national table, and I am pleased that we have been able to accomplish that.”
“This is a landmark occasion for BLET members and SMART–TD members alike,” said SMART–TD President John Previsich. “Today’s announcement builds on several years of cooperation between our organizations on a variety of common issues, and is the logical next step for our great unions. Working together will allow rail labor to make the strongest possible effort to obtain for our members the wages and working conditions that they deserve.”
Also participating in the coordinated bargaining effort are the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers (IBB), and the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers/SEIU (NCFO).
Jointly, the participating unions represent more than 85,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements, and comprise over 58% of the workforce who will be impacted by the negotiations.
SEPTA moved Monday to impose management’s terms in a long-running labor dispute with Regional Rail workers, which union leaders said could prompt a strike that would halt all commuter rail service at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
SEPTA’s goal apparently is to risk a strike now, when ridership is lower, than next winter, when more commuters and students rely on the system. Regional Rail trains carry about 126,000 riders a day.
“We need to get an agreement now,” SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey said Monday. “Seven thousand other SEPTA employees have already accepted this wage package, but these 400 are holding out.”
SEPTA chief labor relations officer Stephanie K. Deiger on Monday alerted union leaders that SEPTA had sent letters on Friday to Regional Rail engineers and electrical workers, describing its intent to give them raises proposed by SEPTA effective next Sunday.