Posts Tagged ‘BNSF Railway’

Union leadership: Rail bosses are tightening the screws on workers, representatives

CLEVELAND, Ohio, (August 21, 2020) — As freight rail traffic levels rebound strongly from the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, railroad management has unleashed an unprecedented barrage of measures to manipulate recalls from furloughs, make already draconian attendance policies even more punitive and interfere with union representatives who fight to protect their members from this abuse.

SMART Transportation Division and the BLET’s National Division both have received multiple reports from their General Committees of Adjustment on various Class I railroads indicating two specific types of recall-related conduct that could jeopardize tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits. These benefits are paid pursuant to the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA), which is administered by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

At least one carrier is disputing unemployment claims for all days later than the date of a recall notice, regardless of when the furloughed worker actually received the notice and irrespective of collective bargaining agreement provisions that provide the employee with a certain number of days within which to report. These provisions allow furloughed railroad workers to make necessary arrangements to settle personal and family obligations, such as child care, to accommodate a return to work without being penalized economically for the position in which the carrier’s furlough originally placed them.

The GCAs have also reported that one or more carriers have recalled furloughed employees who, after reporting for work, are then furloughed for a second time. In at least one instance, an employee quit other employment he had found, only to be kicked to the street again by the railroad without ever having performed service. And, for workers receiving RUIA benefits, a one-week waiting period during which no benefits are paid could be triggered, depending upon the timing and duration of this second furlough.

The leaders of both unions expressed outrage over these actions.

“Just when one thinks the carriers can’t possibly stoop any lower, they try to game the RUIA system to their benefit,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce. “Since RUIA tax rates are experience-based, maybe the carriers are looking to minimize next year’s hit. But cutting their losses on the backs of union members and their families in this fashion is reprehensible.”

In an August 14 letter, SMART-TD and BLET General Chairpersons jointly blasted BNSF management for changes to that Carrier’s attendance policy. According to the letter, the changes would be implemented via a blitz of threatening letters to workers who took off from work on what are now, but were not then, viewed by the Carrier as being “high impact” days. Most of these are family-friendly days, including national holidays, and letters apparently are being sent even in cases where permission to take the time off had been granted to workers.

“The Carrier continues to remain inflexible when it comes to respecting workers’ attempts to have lives outside of work,” the union presidents said. “If a worker happens to have chosen to engage in a family event, to enjoy a holiday or some sort of emergency cropped up on one of these unknown-until-now ‘high-impact’ days, he or she can now expect to receive a threatening letter and have a watchful eye just waiting to issue punishment if they dare have off time that coincides with another of these days.”

The unions’ General Chairpersons also pointed out that thousands of BNSF operating employees remain furloughed, and that this reserve is more than sufficient to meet any service needs on “high impact” days while, at the same time, allowing reasonable time off from work. Further, they report that the Carrier continues to do nothing to address long-standing problems with poor lineups, denial of reasonable vacation and personal leave requests, excessive held away-from-home terminal times during holidays, excessive on-duty times and denied holiday pay claims. As a reminder, even in the midst of a pandemic-stricken U.S. economy, BNSF reported second-quarter earnings of more than $1.13 BILLION in net earnings and a 61.1% operating ratio thanks to the essential work done by employees who are being targeted for discipline and punishment by this policy.

BNSF also is attempting to pressure working local union representatives to not take time off from work to represent their members. In some cases, local representatives are invited to conferences with the railroad, then are denied the time off work to attend the conference, forcing them to mark off for union business. When they do so, the railroad warns that their use of union business mark-offs is excessive and they, too, may fall subject to that Carrier’s intensified attendance policy.

“Shame on BNSF for expanding their anti-worker attendance policy in a way that is plainly anti-family,” Ferguson and Pierce said. “In no event will our union representatives be intimidated into not performing the duties of their offices. Our members should keep in mind that Election Day in November will determine whether these examples of unconscionable corporate misbehavior will continue to receive the approval of federal government officials at the highest levels.”

The joint letter from the SMART Transportation Division and BLET General Chairpersons to BNSF objecting to that Carrier’s attendance policy changes is available here.

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The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of 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.

Oil train safety legislation passes in Wash. state

oil-train-railOLYMPIA, Wash. – State lawmakers gave final approval April 24 to a bill meant to increase oil train safety.

The bill was taken up in response to the uptick in oil train traffic in the region. It directs oil taxes to help pay for oil-train spill response. It also imposes public disclosure requirements for railroad companies operating in Washington.

Read the complete story at Radio Station KOUW.

BNSF retakes market share from Union Pacific

BNSF_Color_LogoBNSF Railway Co. won back market share for grain and agriculture commodities that it lost to Union Pacific Corp. in 2014 when the railroad owned by Warren Buffett struggled to keep up with customer demand.

In last year’s first quarter, BNSF lost about 4 percentage points of market share for carrying grain, fertilizer and other farm-related goods to its main competitors, said John Miller, vice president for agriculture products at BNSF.

Read the complete at Bloomberg Business.

BNSF adds new safety rules for crude oil trains

oil-train-railOMAHA – BNSF Railway Co. has started taking additional safety measures for crude oil shipments because of four recent high-profile derailments in the U.S. and Canada, the railroad said Monday.

Under the changes, BNSF is slowing down crude oil trains to 35 mph in cities with more than 100,000 people and increasing track inspections near waterways. The Fort Worth, Texas, based railroad also is stepping up efforts to find and repair defective wheels before they can cause derailments.

Read the complete story at Omaha.com.

BNSF to begin using aerial drones with cameras

BNSF_Color_LogoWebsite Xconomy.com is reporting that BNSF Railway will begin using aerial drones equipped with cameras to “conduct regular inspections of railway infrastructure and rights of way.”

According to the Federal Aviation Administration website, any operation that does not meet the statutory criteria for a public aircraft operation is considered a civil aircraft operation and must be conducted in accordance with all FAA regulations applicable to the operation.

A recent report in the St. Cloud Times says BNSF received an exemption to operate unmanned aerial vehicles for “evaluation and analysis of railroad infrastructure and operations.”

BNSF faces penalty on hazmat spill reporting rules

washington_stateOLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington state rail safety regulators March 19 recommended BNSF Railway Company be penalized for failing to timely report multiple hazardous material spills along state railways.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) issued the formal complaint following a staff investigation into BNSF’s failure to report 14 releases of various hazardous materials, including crude oil, to the state within the required time period.

State rail safety rules require railroads to make a telephone report of the release of a hazardous material within 30 minutes of learning of the incident to the Washington State Emergency Operations Center’s (EOC) 24-hour duty officer.

The commission staff investigation found that between Nov. 1, 2014, and Feb. 24, 2015, BNSF committed 700 violations of this reporting requirement. Under state law, each day the company fails to report an incident constitutes a separate and distinct violation. The commission has the authority to impose penalties of up to $1,000 per violation, per day of state law or rule.

When a company fails to notify the EOC that a hazardous material incident has occurred, critical response resources may not be deployed, causing potential harm to the public and the environment. There could also be a delay in response and containment resources necessary to clean up hazardous material spills.

The violations were recorded as a result of the following incidents:

  • Nov. 5, 2014, Blaine – BP Cherry Point facility – crude oil spillage on tank
  • Nov. 17, 2014, Pasco – Pasco grain yard – 18-inch streak of diesel fuel on tank car
  • Dec. 7, 2014, Wenatchee – BNSF Wenatchee/Apple yard – hazardous solid waste dripping in rail yard
  • Dec. 8, 2014, Spokane Valley – BNSF Trentwood Station – tank car dripping gas/oil from bottom valve
  • Dec. 9, 2014, Seattle – Balmer Railyard/Interbay – shipment of hazardous solid waste reported leaking liquid identified as primary sludge
  • Dec. 9, 2014, Everett – BNSF Everett/Delta yard – two instances of shipments of hazardous solid waste reported leaking liquid
  • Dec. 9, 2014, Vancouver, BNSF Vancouver yard – shipment of hazardous solid waste reported leaking liquid identified as primary sludge
  • Dec. 10, 2014, Everett BNSF Everett/Delta yard – shipment of hazardous solid waste reported leaking liquid identified as primary sludge
  • Dec. 13, 2014, Quincy – Columbia subdivision – locomotive fire released 100 gallons of lube oil onto tracks
  • Jan. 12, 2015, Vancouver – BNSF Vancouver yard – seven tank cars found leaking crude oil
  • Jan. 13, 2015, Auburn – BNSF Auburn yard – six tank cars found leaking crude oil
  • Jan. 25, 2015, Seattle – BNSF Interbay yard – one BNSF locomotive mechanical problem spilled 100 gallons of lube oil
  • Feb. 12, 2015, Seattle – South Seattle storage facility – UTC inspector found crude oil leaking down the side of a tank car

In October 2014, commission staff sent BNSF a copy of the reporting requirements, and provided the company technical assistance to ensure that BNSF was providing proper notification to the commission regarding hazardous material incidents.

Staff also sent a letter to the regulated railroad industry on Feb. 4, 2015, emphasizing the requirement to provide reports and telephone the EOC within 30 minutes of learning of an event involving fatalities or injuries, the release of hazardous materials, or property damage greater than $50,000.

The companies were informed that failure to provide the required reports is a violation of commission rules and that staff may recommend enforcement action or monetary penalties for companies that fail to report incidents as required.

The company has an opportunity to request a hearing to respond to the allegations.

BNSF announces plans to expand capacity

BNSF_Color_LogoBNSF Railway Company (BNSF) Jan. 15 announced more details about the major capital projects it plans to complete in 2015 to maintain and grow its rail network.

In BNSF’s North Region, the company will invest approximately $1.5 billion across eight states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which approximately $700 million* is planned for projects to expand the rail lines and Positive Train Control (PTC) in that region. BNSF’s North Region has experienced the most rapid growth in recent years. It is the corridor used to move agriculture and coal to export facilities in the Pacific Northwest, petroleum products produced in the region that are destined for refinery facilities, and for consumer products shipped to and from marine ports in the Pacific Northwest. The North Region is also a destination point for materials that support the production of crude oil in the Bakken shale formation.

In BNSF’s South Region, the railroad plans to spend approximately $800 million in nine states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which $175 million is planned for line expansion initiatives and continued implementation of PTC. The South Region includes BNSF’s high-speed transcontinental route with more than 2,000 miles of double track that allows customers to move freight from West Coast marine ports to interchange facilities in Chicago as well as major rail terminals in Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver and St. Louis.

In the Central Region, primarily used for the movement of coal, BNSF will invest approximately $650 million across six states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which almost $260 million is planned for line expansion projects and continued implementation of PTC.

“Building on the 2014 capacity increases, we will continue investing in our railroad to make us ever more capable of getting agriculture, energy supplies and a wide range of consumer and industrial products where they want to go,” said Carl Ice, BNSF president and chief executive officer. “At BNSF, we believe strongly in working with our customers to help them supply the world with food, energy and products that grow and build our economy. These unprecedented capital investments demonstrate to our customers how deeply committed we are to building a prosperous future for all of us.”

Highlights of BNSF’s planned capital investments in the company’s three operating regions are as follows:

North Region
BNSF plans to invest approximately $700 million in the North Region to expand rail capacity and continue the implementation of PTC technology. The North Region includes: Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.

Expansion projects include:

Continue to install double track on the Glasgow subdivision between Minot, N.D., and Snowden, Mont., located in the far western part of the state.

Extend the siding on the Dickinson subdivision located between Mandan, N.D., and Glendive, Mont., and expand the terminal at the Dickinson yard to accommodate expected growth in single car volumes.

Convert the entire Devils Lake subdivision, located between Minot, N.D., and Grand Forks, N.D., to centralized train control, which will improve capacity for freight operation while improving on-time performance of passenger trains.

Complete implementation of centralized train control on the Hillsboro subdivision, located in eastern North Dakota. Upgrade connection track between the Hillsboro subdivision and the Devils Lake subdivision to permit faster train speeds.

South Region
BNSF plans to invest approximately $175 million to expand rail capacity in the South Region and continue the implementation of PTC technology. The South Region includes: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Expansion projects include:

Connect two sidings on the Mojave subdivision, which runs from Bakersfield, Calif., to Mojave, Calif., to create a short double track segment that will increase capacity.

Construct double track on the Panhandle subdivision located between Wellington and Avard, Okla., to improve Southern Transcon capacity.

Construct double track on the Clovis subdivision located between Belen and Clovis, N.M., to improve Southern Transcon capacity.

Central Region
BNSF plans to invest approximately $260 million to expand rail capacity and continue the implementation of PTC technology. The Central Region includes: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Wyoming.

Expansion projects include:

Construct two new sidings on the northern and southern ends of the Hannibal subdivision located in western Illinois.

Construct two double track segments on the Ravenna subdivision, located in Nebraska, which will greatly improve capacity on this heavily-trafficked coal route.

Extend sidings at six locations on the Brush subdivision, located east of Denver, to improve the velocity of southern coal flows.

These planned capital investments are part of BNSF’s 2015 capital plan of $6 billion, which was announced in November and is the company’s largest planned capital expenditure in its history. The investments include $2.9 billion to replace and maintain core network and related assets, nearly $1.5 billion on expansion and efficiency projects, $200 million for continued implementation of PTC and about $1.4 billion for locomotives, freight cars and other equipment acquisitions.

For more details about the planned projects for 2015, please see the map located on bnsf.com.

BNSF announces $6B capital expenditures for 2015

BNSF_Color_Logo

BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) today announced that its planned capital expenditures for 2015 will be $6 billion, which will go toward maintenance and expansion of the railroad in order to meet the expected demand for freight rail service. The 2015 plan marks the third year in a row that BNSF has committed a record amount for capital investments. BNSF also updated its planned capital expenditures for 2014, which now are expected to be $5.5 billion. Since 2000, through the end of 2015, BNSF will have reinvested more than $50 billion into its equipment and its network and infrastructure for maintenance work that helps to maintain train traffic fluidity and capacity expansion projects intended to meet customers’ ever-growing freight shipment demands.

“BNSF’s capital investment program since the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2015 is unprecedented and is clear evidence of our confidence in a growing economy and our intention to meet the demand for service that comes from all our customers,” said Carl Ice, BNSF president and chief executive officer. “We have made great progress in expanding the segments of our railroad that have been most constrained by rapidly increasing demand. Once these new capital programs are completed, we expect to further restore the capacity flexibility we have historically enjoyed to manage the periodic demand surges that come from a dynamic and fast-paced economic environment.”

The largest component of the 2015 capital plan will be for the renewal of assets and maintenance, which is expected to cost $2.9 billion. These projects will go toward replacing and upgrading rails, ties and ballast that are due for updating. Track replacement projects typically make up the largest percentage of BNSF’s annual capital projects and are important for ensuring BNSF can optimize its rail network for ideal speeds for trains that carry a wide range of commodities.

BNSF also plans to spend almost $1.5 billion on expansion projects. Nearly $500 million of that expansion work will occur in the Northern Region, which is where BNSF is experiencing the fastest growth. That region primarily serves agriculture, coal, crude oil and materials related crude oil exploration and production.

BNSF will also increase the size of its locomotive fleet through the addition of new, energy and fuel efficient locomotives. BNSF will acquire 330 new locomotives to add to its fleet of 7,500 and replace others that will soon reach the end of their useful life.

Early next year, BNSF will announce the details for the various line capacity and maintenance projects it plans to make, particularly those along the Northern Region.

Buffett’s BNSF has turned into a cash machine

BNSF_Color_LogoDays after Warren Buffett announced his US$26.5 billion buyout of railroad BNSF, he insisted that he’d paid a steep price to own a business that would benefit his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., over the next century.

“You don’t get bargains on things like that,” he said in a November 2009 interview with Charlie Rose that aired on PBS. “It’s not cheap.”

Read the complete story at the Financial Post.

Member dies in Colorado switching accident

A SMART Transportation Division member was killed on the job Wednesday (Oct. 9) afternoon in a railroad switching accident at a Colorado Springs, Colo., industrial complex.

According to media reports, BNSF Railway conductor Dawn Trettenero, 42, was trapped between two rail cars. Firefighters told Television Station KKTV that they arrived within minutes of being notified of the accident, but Trettenero was already dead when they arrived.

“There were other employees present when this occurred, so we have witnesses that we are talking to,” said police spokesperson Lt. Catherine Buckley.

Trettenero was a member of Transportation Division Local 202 at Denver. She joined the union in December 2011. She is the second Transportation Division member to die on the job this year

Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, a member of the SMART Transportation Division’s Transportation Safety Team, has been assigned to assist the National Transportation Safety Board with its accident investigation.

Local 202 Chairperson Brent Conlin reports that a memorial service for Trettenero will be held from 2-4 p.m., Wednesday Oct. 15, at Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary and Cemetery. It is located at 7777 W. 29th Ave. in Wheatridge, Colo.

Member Dies in Colorado Switching Accident

A SMART Transportation Division member was killed on the job Wednesday (Oct. 9) afternoon in a railroad switching accident at a Colorado Springs, Colo., industrial complex.

According to media reports, BNSF Railway conductor Dawn Trettenero, 42, was trapped between two rail cars. Firefighters told Television Station KKTV that they arrived within minutes of being notified of the accident, but Trettenero was already dead when they arrived.

“There were other employees present when this occurred, so we have witnesses that we are talking to,” said police spokesperson Lt. Catherine Buckley.

Trettenero was a member of Transportation Division Local 202 at Denver. She joined the union in December 2011. She is the second Transportation Division member to die on the job this year.

Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, a member of the SMART Transportation Division’s Transportation Safety Team, has been assigned to assist the National Transportation Safety Board with its accident investigation.

Local 202 Chairperson Brent Conlin reports that a memorial service for Trettenero will be held from 2-4 p.m., Wednesday Oct. 15, at Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary and Cemetery. It is located at 7777 W. 29th Ave. in Wheatridge, Colo.

Woman killed after being pinned between rail cars

A 42-year-old woman died after being trapped between two train cars in a southeast Colorado Springs industrial complex Wednesday, Colorado Springs police and fire officials said.

Officials have ruled the death an industrial accident.

Read the complete story at The Gazette.