House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Ranking Member Michael Capuano (D-MA) sent a letter signed by 27 bipartisan members of Congress to Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Elaine Chao expressing opposition to a petition filed by Kansas City Southern Railway (KCSR) requesting a waiver of critical federal safety and inspection requirements on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
This petition is the latest in a series of actions taken by KCSR to allow Mexican workers, who are not subject to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations regarding pre-employment screening and random drug and alcohol testing, to operate trains in the United States— moving U.S. rail jobs to Mexico.
“Freight railroads have long sought the ability to allow Mexican crews to operate trains in the United States. We oppose any groundwork that the FRA might be laying toward that effort… We strongly urge you to deny the May 31 petition and to rescind the process of allowing Mexican rail crews to operate within the United States,” the members wrote.
The letter was signed by DeFazio, Capuano, as well as Representatives John Katko (R-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), William Keating (D-MA), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Seth Moulton (D-MA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Richard M. Nolan (D-MN), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Charlie Crist (D-FL), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Andre Carson (D-IN), Peter Welch (D-VT), Michael Doyle (D-PA), David P. Joyce (R-OH), Don Young (R-AK), and Gene Green (D-TX).
The public and members of Congress have been vocal in their displeasure with Amtrak’s announcements of cuts and planned cuts to service, including replacement of dining car service with boxed lunches on some routes, de-staffing 15 train stations around the country that serve less than 40 passengers per day and a proposal to substitute parts of the Southwest Chief train route with bus service.
Hot meals a thing of the past on select routes
Beginning June 1, Amtrak replaced the hot meal service offered to sleeping car passengers and replaced it with cold-meal service on the Lakeshore Limited (daily service from New York and Boston to Chicago) and the Capitol Limited (the only daily train from Washington to Chicago). With the replacement, onboard preparation of meals has been eliminated. Instead, the meals are delivered just prior to leaving the point of origin. These new changes have not been popular with passengers who pay hundreds of dollars more for sleeper cars and the amenities, such as hot meals, that come with it.
Julie King, executive director of the National Railroad Hall of Fame and the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, has expressed concern that the changes will dissuade customers from riding on trains.
“When you’re on a very long train trip, the equivalent of a boxed lunch is not going to enhance your experience,” King said. “The lack of train attendants has the same impact. It makes it difficult for people to get their questions answered and get tickets.”
Since the de-staffing of train stations, there has been a considerable amount of public outcry to the loss of service. In fact, rail passengers have formed a Station Volunteer Program (SVP) set to begin in August to help pick up the slack. Volunteers in the program intend to provide information to travelers and will even help with luggage.
The staff cuts also have gotten the attention of senators. Ohio Sens. Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) have introduced an amendment to H.R. 6147, the 2019 fiscal transportation legislation, as a result of the de-staffing. If passed, the amendment would require Amtrak to staff any station that has averaged at least 25 passengers per day in the last five years.
“The services Amtrak staff provide are important to all passengers … but this is particularly true for elderly and disabled individuals who may have to carry baggage down to the train platform unassisted, often late at night,” Portman said.
Southwest Chief: train to bus service?
The most concerning cuts that Amtrak wants to make is to its Southwest Chief daily train service. According to the Rail Passengers Association (RPA), if Amtrak makes its proposed changes to the Southwest Chief route by discontinuing rail service and replacing it with bus service from Dodge City, Kan., to Albuquerque, N.M., it would take 7.5 hours to drive from point-to-point, stopping at all nine current stops.
“The proposal would leave a 500-mile gap in the rail network, it would displace thousands of riders from the train and is projected to lose as much as 70 percent of current revenue generated,” the RPA said.
The RPA has started a petition on its website, www.railpassengers.org, in the hopes that Amtrak will reconsider its proposals.
SMART TD Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith said he is dismayed at the potential loss of jobs and the hardships that current passengers will face if Amtrak has its way.
“The Southwest Chief is critical infrastructure to sustaining good jobs in rural areas as well as providing passenger transportation to under-served areas that do not have ready access to other forms of travel to larger metropolitan areas,” Smith said.
The Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization (TEMPO), which was created in the 1990s when Amtrak was looking to discontinue service on the Texas Eagle, a line that stops in Chicago; San Antonio; Fort Worth, Texas; and Los Angeles, has also been outspoken about the changes Amtrak is proposing.
“Over the years we’ve had to battle with Congress to fund these trains, but now it seems the battle is with Amtrak itself,” said TEMPO’s Dr. William Pollard after hearing about Amtrak’s planned cuts.
Members of Congress expressed their concern after Amtrak’s CEO Richard Anderson announced that he plans to renege on deals with affected states Amtrak had made under then-CEO Joe Boardman to keep the Southwest Chief running.
In a bipartisan letter to Amtrak’s Anderson, U.S. Sens. Marin Heinrich (D – N.M.), Tom Udall (D – N.M.), Michael Bennet (D – Colo.), Richard Durbin (D – Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (D – Ill), Dianne Feinstein (D – Calif.), Kamala Harris (D – Calif.), Pat Roberts (R – Kan.), Jerry Moran (R – Kan.) and Cory Gardner (R – Colo.) wrote: “The potential suspension of rail service has raised serious concerns among our constituents who depend on the Southwest Chief. We strongly disagree with such a decision and urge you to uphold Amtrak’s commitment to intercity rail service across the entire national network, particularly through our rural communities.”
The Senate has since passed an amendment to the chamber’s fiscal 2019 transportation legislation to force Amtrak to keep running its long-distance routes. Amendment No. 3414 of the funding bill H.R. 6147 says, “It is the sense of Congress that 1) long distance routes provide much needed transportation access to millions of riders in 325 communities in 40 states, and are particularly important in rural areas; and 2) long distance passenger rail routes and services should be sustained to ensure connectivity throughout the national network.”
That amendment passed, 95 to 4. The clear objective of the amendment is to tell Amtrak that it cannot be the sole decision-maker in the decision to scrap portions of the national network.
“Now, more than ever, we need a ‘national’ rail system. It’s sad that we need the representatives and senators of the people to mandate the CEO of Amtrak to continue to operate a national system instead of dismantling it,” said Dirk Sampson, general chairperson of Amtrak GO 769.
SEATTLE — SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch gave attendees a broad overview of the landscape of the transit industry on the third day of the TD regional meeting.
Among the topics covered: how to grow support for transportation-related bills in Washington, D.C., train automation, operator safety, stock buybacks and the potential threat politicians pose to what they describe as “entitlements.”
“If you see something, do something,” Risch told the crowd, encouraging them to get involved by running for public office, engaging government officials face-to-face to educate them about the issues important to the transportation industry and being more visible at public meetings and in the media.
National Legislative Director John Risch, standing, addresses the opening session of the third day of the SMART TD Regional Meeting in Seattle on July 4.
“It’s not me or our small office in D.C. that passes a crew bill,” Risch said. “That’s not the most effective way. The most effective way is when constituents contact them.”
He praised the grassroots efforts of Socorro Cisneros-Hernandez, a bus member out of Local 1607 in Los Angeles, who took it upon herself to meet Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Cook at a town hall meeting. After the discussion, Cook signed on to the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 233) as one of the 112 bipartisan members in the U.S. House who support the two-person crew bill.
General Chairperson Steve Simpson (GO 489) met with U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican and one of the most conservative congressmen, and also was able to get Gohmert to sign on in support of H.R. 233 and to advocate for funding for the National Mediation Board, Risch said.
“This is a political year — they’re all ears. They’re all ears in the political years,” Risch said. “Once they get elected, they’re not quite as attentive.”
Risch said the responses received by the Federal Railroad Administration in a request for comments on automation in the rail industry largely agreed with rail labor’s approach — that all trains should have two-person crews.
“The vast majority, with a handful of exceptions from railroads, of the comments were comments saying the only safe way to be allowed to run a train through America is with two crewmembers — a certified conductor and a certified locomotive engineer,” Risch said. “It’s a safety issue — it’s an issue to where you need two people to get the job done.”
Two safety bills have been introduced in Congress — one to protect passenger rail workers in the Senate and one to protect bus operators in the House.
The House bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano of California and U.S. Rep. John Katko of New York, is a strong bill and if passed, would protect our bus members.
“It will require that bus companies develop risk-reduction programs, and not only do they have to develop them, they have to do it with their bus drivers and union representatives,” Risch said.
The programs would target areas on bus properties where safety could be improved, such as fixes for the vehicles, and de-escalation training, Risch said.
“Too often, the fare is a dollar-and-a-half and the guy’s only got a dollar getting on the bus and then the bus driver tells him it’s a dollar-and-a-half…and this 50-cent issue turns into something terrible,” Risch said.
Class I railroads received millions, if not billions of dollars back when the Tax Cut and Jobs Act cut the U.S. corporate tax rate last year. Risch reminded attendees what the railroads are using the money for rather than infrastructure and maintenance.
“They’re using it to buy back stock — elevate the stock price. Who are the biggest stockholders? — Top officers of the railroads and the hedge funds,” Risch said. “Those are the guys that are profiting. Union Pacific will spend twice as much money these next three years buying back stock than they will in investing in the railroad.”
The runaway debt that has been created by spending increases also has politicians eyeing what they describe as “entitlements” — among them Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Railroad Retirement. Politicians want to get their hands on the money that fund these “entitlements” – money that we’ve put in for our retirements – and bankrupt these programs.
“That’s the deal we’ve made — we’re going to pay in for 30, 40 years and then we would have a few years to enjoy retirement because we invested,” Risch said. “That was the deal — it was a pension plan. You can’t change that. We’re not going to stand idly by if they try to change that deal.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress passed and President Trump signed into law Friday a bipartisan spending agreement also known as the “omnibus” spending bill that provides a massive boost toward several of our union’s priorities, including transportation infrastructure projects, the Railroad Retirement Board and the National Mediation Board.
With the growing demand by our nation’s leaders to address infrastructure needs, the omnibus provides a major boost to funding passenger rail and transit projects such as $1.9 billion for Amtrak, including $650 million for projects in the Northeast Corridor.
This will provide much-needed funding for the Gateway Project that will double passenger train service between New York and New Jersey to reduce congestion while making repairs to tunnels and tracks that are long overdue. For our bus and transit members, the bill provides $2.6 billion to fund major transit capital investments, including heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit projects nationwide.
In addition, the Railroad Retirement Board received a $10 million boost that will allow the agency to phase out its decades-old hardware systems with modernized Information Technology services to provide and disburse benefits to our railroad retirees in a timely manner. Lastly, the omnibus provides the National Mediation Board with $13.8 million that includes the sustained $570,000 funding increase to address the arbitration backlog.
“The SMART TD National Legislative Office continues to inform lawmakers about the importance of funding transit and passenger rail that are vital to our union membership and the nation’s transportation workforce at large. We will continue working to ensure that Congress addresses the full needs of our rail workers by increasing resources for the National Mediation Board and Railroad Retirement Board so that our members receive the services they earned and deserve,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said.
Last year, SMART Transportation Division tracked 10 votes and two bills in the U.S. House of Representatives that directly impacted our members, families and retirees. These votes ranged from federal funding for Amtrak and Essential Air Service (EAS), to protecting the Davis-Bacon Act, to the recently passed tax bill. Over the years, we distilled the ‘yeas’ and ‘nays’ into a numeric score rewarding members of Congress who co-sponsored H.R. 233, the Safe Freight Act, and penalizing the scores of those who co-sponsored National Right to Work Act.
When you put all the votes together, combined with co-sponsorship of bills that directly impact members, the Legislative Action Center derives a score using a 1-100 scale to illustrate where members of Congress stand with SMART TD members. The cumulative score for members of Congress goes back as early as 2011. You can check your Representatives score by clicking on the link below, then clicking on your state and representative. The score is on the picture.
Click here to find out how your Member of Congress scored with SMART TD.
Below is the breakdown of scores when it comes to SMART TD issues of concern:
31 Members of Congress with a perfect 100
180 Members of Congress with a score between 90 and 100 (178 Ds and 2 Rs)
16 Republicans with a score of 60 and higher. The highest is a 99.
The lowest Democrat score is 78
115 Members of Congress with a score of 10 or below
35 Members of Congress with a score of zero.
The overall average for all of Congress is a score of 54
H.R. 233, The Safe Freight Act has 74 co-sponsors (61 Ds and 13 Rs)
H.R. 785, National Right to Work Act has 107 co-sponsors (all Rs)
The National Legislative Office will continue to engage all members of Congress, regardless of party or past votes, to tell our story on why rail, transportation, and air workers are key toward moving America’s economic engines forward. As we start off 2018 with renewed optimism, I hope you’ll join us in telling that story to your elected officials.
SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch, pictured, along with Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and D. Michael Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America, in an op-ed piece published Nov. 29 on thehill.com remind leaders in Congress not to overlook the job-creation potential of carbon-capture technology.
Former GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio died Wednesday at the age of 62 after fighting pancreatic cancer, according to several media reports. LaTourette was a well-known transportation advocate, especially for his northeastern Ohio district, and did stints on the House Transportation and Appropriations committees before retiring in 2013.
He was also famous for his biting sense of humor, whether he was playfully suggesting a Cabinet secretary was under the influence for elevating biking to the same level of importance as vehicles in transportation planning, or blasting his colleagues for not putting in what he felt was an adequate amount of effort into writing the 2012 transportation bill. Read more here.
A bill to extend federal surface transportation funding beyond Friday was introduced yesterday to give congressional conference committee members more time to work out their differences on multi-year transportation reauthorization legislation.
Twelve Pacific Rim countries on Monday reached the most ambitious trade pact in a generation, aiming to liberalize commerce in 40 percent of the world’s economy in a deal that faces skepticism from U.S. lawmakers.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact struck in Atlanta after marathon talks could reshape industries, change the cost of products from cheese to cancer treatments and have repercussions for drug companies and automakers.
Tired negotiators worked round the clock over the weekend to settle tough issues such as monopoly rights for new biotech drugs. New Zealand’s demand for greater access for its dairy exports was only settled at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) on Monday.
WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAU) — Federal Railroad Administration officials were in Wisconsin Rapids Monday to discuss problems including parked trains blocking roadways for long periods of time.
Congressman Ron Kind joined local officials and the Regional Federal Railroad Administrator from Chicago to discuss that and other railroad issues.
Kind says he agrees with FRA staff that current regulations related to blocking roads are inadequate. “The regulation on railroads, when it comes to the blockages, is pretty weak right now, and either they step up and do the right thing or Congress may be needed in order to intervene and perhaps pass some legislation.”
Congress over the weekend sent to President Obama for his signature a two-month extension of federal funding of highway and transit programs. The surface transportation law known as MAP-21 was set to expire May 31.
The House passed its bill — sponsored by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Bill Shuster (R-PA.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — a week ago, while the Senate passed the bill on Saturday.
Although pleased that the legislation will prevent a shutdown of summer projects, some transportation industry leaders expressed frustration and disappointment that Congress passed another short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund.
Congressional elections do matter. Actions of Congress can make a big difference when it comes to our job security, our wages, our fringe benefits, our retirement and safety in our workplace.
In this issue of the SMART Transportation Division News are our official endorsements for the Nov. 4 election. These endorsements are based on recommendations from our state legislative boards which, with our national office, reviewed the voting records of incumbent lawmakers and conducted thorough interviews with new candidates seeking national office.
Our constitution requires that we make these endorsements and we take this obligation seriously. A full listing of how Congressional legislators voted on issues important to our members can be found on the Transportation Division website at www.utu.org by clicking on the 2014 Voter Information tile at the bottom right corner of the homepage.
The upcoming session of Congress will be a busy one. We will be working to pass legislation requiring a minimum of two persons – a certified conductor and a certified engineer – working on all trains. One current bill, Senate Bill S. 2784 – the Rail Safety Improvement Act, is reported on page 1 of this publication.
We will be working to see that our transit systems and Amtrak receive the funding they so desperately need. Likewise, we will be working to make sure that the National Mediation Board receives the funding it needs to resolve disputes in the workplace in a timely manner. We will be working with our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters on issues important to the construction industry and to ensure that the Essential Air Service program is properly funded.
Electing labor-friendly legislators is the key to our success. Our Legislative Department can be the best in the business, but if this election produces a Congress in which a majority of its members don’t even believe in the fundamental rights of workers, our efforts to protect our members’ jobs, paychecks, benefits, retirement income and workplace safety will be much harder.
We all have our personal views about life and the government. I understand that we have members that are Democrats, Republicans, independents, Tea Party Libertarians, Green Party environmentalists and just about every flavor out there. While I appreciate our diversity, I urge you to take into consideration the endorsements in this newspaper when you cast your ballot.
These endorsements were based on issues like support for two-person train crews, Amtrak, the coal industry, mass transportation funding, and other work-related issues.
Our endorsed incumbents have supported our work-related issues and the endorsed candidates have pledged to do so.
Neither I nor anyone else in our union tells anyone “how to vote.” What we do is fulfill our constitutional responsibility to endorse those that we believe will support us once they’re elected. To do anything less would be shirking our constitutional responsibility.
Come Nov. 4, no matter whom you choose to vote for…choose to vote. If your state has early or absentee voting, take advantage of this opportunity, especially if you work a road job or an extra-board.
I look forward to serving each of you as your National Legislative Director and pledge to do my best. That being said, our legislative department’s odds of success will be much better if you send folks to Congress that support our issues.
National Legislative Director SMART Transportation Division
Below are Congressional scorecards compiled by the SMART Transportation Division Legislative Office. See how your legislators voted on the issue affecting your job.