The Trump administration’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has declined a request made by SMART Transportation Division to address the safety concerns of excessively long trains.
In an April 25, 2017, letter from National Legislative Director John Risch to Robert Lauby, FRA’s associate administrator for safety, Risch referenced a pair of trains – one CSX train consisting of 234 cars and exceeding 2 ½ miles in length and a BNSF train that had 246 cars that also exceeded 2 ½ miles.
Risch said in the letter that such “incredibly long” trains pose challenges to crew radio communications and maintaining brake pipe pressure, block more rail crossings and that crews are not adequately trained to handle these dangerously long trains.
But those concerns were simply brushed aside by Lauby.
“FRA does not have sufficient data or evidence to justify an Emergency Order limiting the length of trains,” he wrote in his March 7, 2018, response, saying also that the carriers were lengthening trains in an attempt “to enhance service delivery and operational efficiencies.”
“The letter signed by Lauby looked like it was written by some railroad lobbyist,” Risch said. “Anyone who has ever dealt with a 2-mile-plus-long train knows they are anything but efficient. They tie up the railroad because sidings and rail yards can’t handle them.”
WASHINGTON (Jan. 11, 2018) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued four railroad related safety recommendations in concert with the agency’s publication of two railroad accident briefs Thursday, Jan. 11.
Recommendation to Union Pacific concerning employee fatality
A Union Pacific Railroad (UP) foreman died after being struck by a remote-control train during switching operations at the east end of Armourdale Yard, Kansas City, Sept. 29, 2015. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident was the foreman being in the gage of the track, for unknown reasons, while a train switching movement was being performed by another crew. The report also states inadequate radio communications and inadequate work coordination between crews working in the yard contributed to the accident.
In the course of the investigation the NTSB learned Union Pacific employees received frequent, non-critical, man-down alarms which the NTSB believes likely reduced the attention and reaction crewmembers made to actual critical alarms.
A man-down alarm is an audible warning transmitted of the yard’s radio channels from a remote-control unit (used to remotely control locomotives in the yard) indicating the remote-control unit is not in a vertical position and its operator may be in danger. As a result of the investigation the NTSB issued a safety recommendation to the Union Pacific Railroad to develop and implement a modification to the man-down alarms that would allow workers to differentiate between legitimate and non-critical alarms.
Recommendation to BNSF concerning derailment
A broken wheel led to the derailment of six of the 107 loaded tank cars carrying crude oil in a Burlington Northern Santa Fe crude (BNSF) oil unit train May 6, 2015, near Heimdal, N.D. No injuries or fatalities were reported in connection with the derailment, however five of the derailed tank cars breached, releasing about 96,400 gallons of crude oil. A fire ensued, forcing the evacuation of about 30 people from Heimdal and the surrounding area due to the smoke plume.
The NTSB determined the left wheel, in the second position on car 81 was broken due to a vertical split rim which led to catastrophic failure of the wheel due to multiple overstress fractures.
As a result of the investigation the NTSB issued two safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to research and evaluate wheel impact load thresholds and to mandate remedial actions for railroads to avoid or identify mechanical defects identified by wheel impact load detectors.
A third recommendation was issued to both the FRA and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) seeking collaboration in evaluation of safe peak vertical load thresholds to determine remedial actions for suspected defective wheel conditions in high-hazard flammable train service.
By a margin of nearly four to one, SMART Transportation Division members have voted to APPROVE the new National Rail Contract. The voting was conducted by BallotPoint Election Services, who certified the following results for each craft eligible to vote:
The approved contract will have an effective date of December 1, 2017, with implementation of new pay rates and employee healthcare cost-sharing modifications planned for January 1, 2018. Employees’ monthly healthcare contributions will remain frozen at $228.89 for the life of the contract.
The term of the agreement is for five years, from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2019. In addition to a 3% increase previously negotiated and already implemented on January 1, 2015, the contract provides for full retroactive pay of 2% from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, and 4% from July 1, 2017, until implementation of the new rates. Thereafter, affected members will receive a boost in wage rates of 2.5% on July 1, 2018, and 3% on July 1, 2019.
The ratified contract will cover over 35,000 SMART TD members employed by BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, Union Pacific and numerous smaller carriers, all of whom were represented in this round of bargaining by the rail industry’s National Carriers’ Conference Committee.
The SMART TD negotiating team was led by President John Previsich, who was assisted in the negotiations by Vice Presidents David Wier, John Lesniewski, Troy Johnson, John England, Doyle Turner and Jeremy Ferguson, along with General Chairpersons Danny Young (BNSF), Mark Cook (NS), Brent Leonard (UP) and Steve Mavity (CSX), all four of whom are nationally elected TD officers in addition to serving as General Chairpersons.
For this round of bargaining, SMART TD joined forces with five other unions to form the Coordinated Bargaining Group. The other unions in the CBG are the American Train Dispatchers Association; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (a Division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers and the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers/SEIU.
President Previsich commented: “I believe that our negotiating team, along with the teams from the other unions in the CBG, are to be commended for staying the course during a long and tedious round of negotiations. The easy thing for them to do when the going got tough was to declare defeat and walk away from the negotiating table, as others have done, but our team never wavered. By rejecting the carriers’ unreasonable demands while staying at the table and continuing to negotiate, the team was successful in obtaining an agreement that achieved an approval rate of 79.57%.”
The SMART Transportation Division, formerly the United Transportation Union, is the largest rail union in the United States representing members in all operating crafts, including engineers, conductors, trainmen, switchmen and yardmasters.
The Bismarck Tribune reports that the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline may possibly reduce rail crude transport by 470,000 barrels or more. SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch told the newspaper that the downturn in oil shipments by rail could negatively impact BNSF’s ability to continue to invest in rail services.
Click here to read more from the Bismarck Tribune.
Robert W. Vann IV, 54, was killed Tuesday, Jan. 10 when the BNSF crew van that he was riding in was involved in a head-on collision with a pick-up truck near Wolf Point, Mont.
Vann served his country in the U.S. Air Force before hiring out as a conductor with BNSF in Minot, N.D. He had more than 13 years of service with the railroad at the time of his death and was very active in Local 1059. Vann served as local legislative representative from 2011 to 2013; legislative vice chairperson from 2012 to 2016; and vice local chairperson from 2015 to 2017. During his free time, he enjoyed volunteering in his community.
Vann is survived by his wife Terra Vann; children Cassie (Joe) Faiai, Bobby (Virginia) Vann, Chase (Cassie) Vann, Tiffany (Mike) St. Lawrence, Cody Vann and Camie Vann; grandchildren Kierna, Kyric, Sefa, Alyssa, Samson, Aisi, Teia and Brooklyn; sister Susan (David) Vann-Spruill; brother Andrew (Sandy) Vann; and a few nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Robert III and Mary (Flowers) Vann; and grandparents Thelma and Robert Vann II, and Luther and Mae Flowers.
A celebration of life will be held Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2025 9th Street NW, Minot, ND 58701. Click here to leave condolences for the family.
BNSF Railway to pay more than $147K in back wages, damages to former employee
DENVER – An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has found that BNSF Railway Company violated federal law when it terminated a track inspector for insubordination after the employee reported railroad track defects to management.
OSHA has ordered BNSF to pay more than $147,000 in back wages and damages and take other corrective actions. Agency investigators determined the company retaliated against the former employee in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. A Berkshire Hathaway company, BNSF is an international railroad operator headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. It employs more than 42,000 employees.
“BNSF employees have the right to protect their safety and that of other employees and the public without fear of retaliation by their employer,” said Gregory Baxter, regional OSHA administrator in Denver. “Our investigation and our actions on this worker’s behalf underscores the agency’s commitment to take vigorous action to protect workers’ rights.”
The company and the former employee may file objections or request a hearing, within 30 days of receipt of the agency’s order, before the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the CPSIA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor. More information is available online at http://www.whistleblowers.gov/index.html.
Conductor Kenneth Paul “K.P.” Smith Jr., 59, of Local 1313 at Amarillo, Texas, died last week (June 28) when two BNSF trains crashed just outside of Amarillo. Two others, Cody Owens, 52, and Lara Gayle Taylor, 45, also died in the crash. Owens and Taylor were former members. A fourth, unidentified conductor, jumped from the train and suffered injuries.
Smith had been a member since 1977. He was known for having a love of the outdoors and had a passion for sharing his knowledge and skills with those he loved. In his free time, Smith enjoyed scuba diving and driving RZRs.
“While devastated by the sudden loss of Kenny, we intend to spend the upcoming days and weeks remembering the love he had for his family and a good adventure. K.P. took great pride in his 39 years of service with BNSF Railway. He will be missed deeply by those whose lives he touched,” the family said in a statement to Amarillo Globe-News.
Smith is survived by his wife Donna Smith, daughter Sarah (Tomas) Wrotten, son Kellen (Tana) Smith, mother Nancy Smith, brother Ricky (Jacquie) Smith; grandchildren Saylor Wrotten; Averey, Kysen and Ansen Smith. He was preceded in death by his father Paul Smith.
A celebration of life service was held Saturday, July 2. Click here to view Smith’s official obituary or here to leave condolences for the family.
Owens hired out with BNSF in 1994. He was known for his love of horses and the cowboy way of life. He also loved to hunt, fish, snow ski and water ski. He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Claude.
Owens is survived by wife Cindy, daughter Riley Owens, sons Ty and Zackry Owens; mother Betty Owens; sisters Connie (Glen) Spiller and Cheryl (Danny) Hand; and grandmother Mildred Clendennen. He was preceded in death by his father Merle Owens.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5411 S. Bell, Ste. 411, Amarillo, TX 79109, in honor of Owens’ father. A funeral service was held Saturday, July 2. Click here to read Owens’ official obituary or here to leave condolences.
Taylor loved her son, Jacob, and enjoyed spending time with family and friends. She was an avid athlete and was often found working out at the gym. She had three cats and a horse.
Taylor is survived by son Jacob, mother Patricia Pembridge, stepfather Paul, brothers Randy (Debbi) Morris and David Morris. She was preceded in death by her father Jerry Lee Morris.
Visitation and a memorial service were held Tuesday, July 5. Memorial contributions may be made to a trust fund set up for her son Jacob Taylor of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Click here to read Taylor’s official obituary and to leave condolences.
On Friday, April 8, Amtrak filed a lawsuit against Cimarron Crossing Feeders, LLC, claiming “gross negligence” as the alleged cause of a derailment last month that left 32 passengers injured. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found in their investigation that one of the feed company’s trucks had struck the side of the railroad trucks, shifting the alignment of the tracks. The lawsuit alleges that Cimarron Crossing Feeders failed to notify BNSF, the owner of the tracks, or Amtrak, of the damage. Click here to read more from The Hutchinson News. Click here to read SMART TD’s March 14 report on the derailment.