CLEVELAND, Ohio (March 6) — SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) jointly petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on March 6 to take action in responding to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the United States.
“With at least 231 patients treated in 22 states, and at least 14 deaths at the present time … we and other rail labor Organizations take this issue very seriously, and we have been monitoring it closely,” wrote SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce in a letter to FRA Administrator Ronald J. Batory.
The two union presidents pointedly questioned the FRA’s lack of an action plan to help address the potential spread of the coronavirus among rail workers.
“As you are likely already aware, over the last several weeks multiple departments within the Department of Transportation … have issued guidelines to employers on how to approach this issue, along with statements and guidelines focused on educating and protecting the crew members, passengers, and consumers who may be impacted by this deadly disease,” the union presidents wrote. “To our knowledge, the FRA has overlooked, or perhaps outright disregarded, its responsibility to get involved with this matter.”
The presidents urged FRA to issue guidelines directed at U.S. rail carriers, employees and passengers similar to those issued by other departments within the DOT.
Those would include:
Sanitizing equipment such as (but not limited to) locomotive cabs, computers, remote control boxes and communal areas such as passenger cars, offices, crew staging areas, company provided ground transportation, and away-from-home lodging facilities.
Providing crews and passengers with personal protective equipment, alcohol-based hand sanitizer strong enough to kill viruses, and other cleaning supplies as deemed appropriate.
Encouraging employees to stay home if they have respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, and/or fever) that are similar to those associated with the coronavirus and to leave if they develop such symptoms while working.
Strongly encouraging rail carriers to relax current attendance policies which can be described as unforgiving, at best, to employees who miss work due to illness.
Educating all rail employees (including supervisory staff) on the appropriate guidelines for self-monitoring of their health, as well as monitoring and addressing others who appear to be symptomatic.
Reporting to appropriate health departments where employees have shown aforementioned symptoms that prevent them from carrying out their assigned duties.
Developing plans for employees who reside with, and/or come into direct contact with individuals who are symptomatic.
Encouraging carriers to develop health programs and practices which exceed FRA’s recommended guidelines.
Encouraging all parties to understand and comply with other such guidelines issued by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Presidents Ferguson and Pierce concluded by again urging prompt action from FRA to protect the safety of railroad workers and the traveling public.
“Further, we ask that you provide continual updates to these guidelines, as other departments have done. Please advise of your plans pertaining to this very serious situation,” they wrote.
In an interview to appear in the April edition of Trains Magazine, SMART-TD National Legislative Director Greg Hynes was interviewed about key issues and industry trends including Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), two-person crews, autonomous trains and the effect presidential elections have on the railroad industry.
In the interview, Hynes spoke about how PSR is a threat to jobs, the industry and the public because fewer safety inspections are being performed with fewer people and that there is a blatant disregard by Class I management toward fatigued and ill individuals who aren’t being allowed time off.
When asked if autonomous train technology could come to the U.S., Hynes responded:
“Where they have the autonomous trains out in Australia is on a route that doesn’t have any grade crossings, there are no people nearby, and it’s basically out in the middle of nowhere. But if you try to do that in the United States, where you have thousands and thousands of grade crossings, it will be a really bad thing. The people on a train are the first responders in every crossing incident. You won’t have that with an autonomous train.”
Trains closed the interview asking how the 2020 presidential election will impact railroads and unions. Hynes noted that whoever is in the White House determines who runs the FRA.
“If we see a continuation of what we have right now, it will not be good for rail safety or labor. This current administration has not been friendly to labor at all. Rail safety is not their primary function anymore, as we saw in their decision to not implement a national crew-size rule. How is that in the best interest of safety? It’s all about protecting the railroads’ bottom line, but that’s not the FRA’s job.”
If approved as-is, a federal budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year released Monday, Feb. 10, by President Donald Trump would reduce funding for Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and underfund the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).
Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier, would see a 50 percent reduction in funding from the 2020 budget, with long-distance routes again in jeopardy of losing federal funding.
“Despite Amtrak’s success and the critical service it offers to so many, President Trump’s budget would slash funding for Amtrak by more than half,” the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which SMART-TD is a member, said on Twitter. “These proposed cuts would apply to the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail corridor in the country, and Amtrak’s broader national network, which serves low population areas.”
The low-population areas would include Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona and, according to the administration, “would be better served by other modes of transportation like — wait for it — intercity buses,” TTD tweeted.
Amtrak has been a frequent target of the administration, with Trump seeking to cut funding for the national rail carrier every year he has been in office. The future of long-distance routes such as the Southwest Chief was jeopardized in 2018, and it took an outcry by legislators in both houses of Congress to preserve the routes through the 2019 fiscal year while the FAST Act, which expires this autumn, preserved it in fiscal year 2020.
The FRA, which has received about $3 billion in the past two Trump-era budgets, is targeted for nearly $1 billion in reductions.
In contrast, funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would increase by $300 million to $13.2 billion.
Finally, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) would be underfunded if Trump’s proposed budget goes through, board sources say.
The RRB requests $141,974,000 for administrative costs and $13,850,000 to help fund its IT upgrade efforts for a total of $155,824,000. The request will support 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff.
However, the president’s budget requests $114,500,000 for administrative and $5,725,000 for IT for a total of $120,225,000. The President’s budget would only support 672 FTE, which is 208 less than the agency’s request level and 119 less than the current level of 791 FTE.
The agency’s budget through the Trump administration’s term has remained flat at $113.5 million annually with an additional $10 million provided each year to help RRB’s efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure. Trump proposes to allocate $120.225 million to the agency in the next fiscal year.
“RRB needs a minimum of 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to sustain mission critical operations. Stagnant administrative budgets coupled with cost-of-living salary increases for Federal employees have resulted in severe understaffing,” a message from RRB’s Office of the Labor Member said. “The impact of this understaffing is being felt in the agency’s customer service and its ability to accomplish mission critical goals.”
It stands to note that presidential budget proposals typically serve as a starting point for Congress as its members begin the task of setting the fiscal course for the country in an election year and rarely, if ever, are approved without alterations.
“The good news about the president’s budget would be that it will most assuredly be dead on arrival in the U.S. House,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said.
However, the proposed budget does serve as an indicator of where the administration’s budgetary priorities are.
The incident earlier this month in which a two-person crew helped to save a 5-year-old girl in his state reminded SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy of a letter his state’s legislative board submitted in 2018 in response to a federal Department of Transportation request for comment about autonomous rail operations.
Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy
After a discussion he said he had last summer with FRA Administrator Ron Batory, Qualy said he had reason to believe that his communication over the safety a two-person freight rail crew provides might have been overlooked by the DOT and Batory and his agency. After all, there were about 1,545 comments in favor of the FRA establishing a two-person crew rule that were outweighed in the agency’s eyes by the 39 comments in favor of the May 2019 withdrawal of the proposed rule.
“This was a good letter that our members should read and be aware of,” Qualy said. “This spells out the essential argument of why having two people on the crew is important.”
In the letter, Qualy reminds Batory that technology does not always reduce the tasks involved in operating a train, citing crew duties such as:
Throwing manual switches and dual control switches, coupling cars, coupling air-hoses, setting hand brakes, pulling pin lifters to switch cars, replacing failed hoses, gaskets, replacing couplers, mechanical and air-brake inspections remain constant work tasks of any operation. Any ATT, PTC, and/or aerial drone cannot do these train tasks.
When ATT and PTC programs fail en route, standing or delayed trains must not be permitted to block public roadways as a practice. The uncoupling of a standing train to open a grade crossing to allow vehicles to pass requires two persons.
After grade crossing collisions with the public, immediate Samaritan response to help the injured is an essential and moral responsibility within the fabric of our society. Two persons on all trains are necessary to assist the public after grade-crossing and other accidents.
“The railroad carriers and their associations claim two persons will not be necessary on trains with ATT and/ or PTC,” Qualy wrote. “These technological control features have nothing to do with the necessary and essential tasks of the train-machine behind or ahead of the locomotives.”
The Feb. 1 incident in East St. Paul, Minn., in which a missing girl was found by a two-person train crew after they alertly stopped and provided aid is a perfect example of why two sets of eyes are needed in the cab.
“Railroad carriers have a moral responsibility to provide for the right of Samaritan response,” Qualy wrote in his letter.
The questions need to be asked. Would the girl have been seen if it were a one-person operation that night? Would the sensors of an autonomous train have detected her, stopped the train and invited her into the cab of the locomotive for warmth and protection and then contacted authorities so she could be reunited with her worried family?
Here’s a little reminder that some on the railroad believe in moral responsibility over innovation.
Federal agencies have announced their random drug testing rates for the new calendar year.
In December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a test rate increase from 25 percent to 50 percent of the average number of driver positions because of an increased number of positive test results in 2018.
In January, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that the minimum random drug testing rate will remain unchanged at 50 percent.
The Federal Railroad Administration’s minimum drug test rate remains at 25 percent for workers, excluding maintenance-of-way employees.
The random alcohol testing rate has been set for all three agencies at 10 percent.
Railroad maintenance-of-way employees are tested at a higher rate: 50 percent for drugs and 25 percent for alcohol.
The deadline has been extended for interested applicants to submit materials to fill two open high-level Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety positions: Director, Office of Safety Analysis and Deputy Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety.
With the addition of a two-week extension, the application deadline is now Aug. 26.
The Director, Office of Safety Analysis serves as primary adviser for the FRA safety regulatory program and assists the Associate Administrator and the Deputy Associate Administrator within the Office of Railroad Safety in formulating program and technical policies, monitoring integrated programs, establishing goals for organizational components and tracking the progress of projects and programs. The incumbent serves as the primary adviser for the FRA safety regulatory program and works closely with executives in the FRA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office and in various other executive agencies to ensure effective and consistent coordination on rail-safety regulatory development and evaluation efforts.
The Deputy Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety supports the Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety and Chief Safety Officer in advancing the mission of FRA with regard to railroad safety. As a senior member of the FRA leadership team, the Deputy Associate Administrator is a primary source of executive advice and leadership for Office of Railroad Safety operations and safety standards as well as policy development. The Deputy Associate Administrator is responsible for planning and ensuring the execution of FRA safety policies, programs and activities and advancing overall organizational excellence within the Office of Railroad Safety.
Since Robert “Bob” Lauby retired from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in April, Karl Alexy has been acting associate administrator for the FRA’s Office of Railroad Safety (RRS). Recently, Alexy has been named as the full-time associate administrator for railroad safety and the chief safety officer within the RRS.
Prior to his recent appointment, Alexy was the deputy associate administrator (DAA) of the RRS and provided leadership to RRS’s three major sections: the Office of Safety Analysis, the Office of Technical Oversight and the Office of Regional Operations.
Alexy came on board the FRA in 2009 as a general engineer in the FRA’s Hazardous Materials Division, collaborating with other DOT agencies and all segments of the rail industry in enforcement and outreach activity in his role. He also developed and executed research programs and rulemakings. In 2012, he was appointed to the position of staff director of the Hazardous Materials Division and led the FRA’s efforts, in coordination with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, in developing the Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains rule. Alexy has also attended many SMART TD regional meetings where he has presented in the FRA Hours of Service workshops.
FRA also has announced that there are two high-level positions open: Director, Office of Safety Analysis and Deputy Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety.
The director, Office of Safety Analysis serves as primary adviser for the FRA safety regulatory program and assists the Associate Administrator and the Deputy Associate Administrator within the Office of Railroad Safety in formulating program and technical policies, monitoring integrated programs, establishing goals for organizational components and tracking the progress of projects and programs. The incumbent serves as the primary adviser for the FRA safety regulatory program and works closely with executives in the FRA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office and in various other executive agencies to ensure effective and consistent coordination on rail-safety regulatory development and evaluation efforts.
The deputy associate administrator for railroad safety supports the Associate Administrator for Railroad Safety and Chief Safety Officer in advancing the mission of FRA with regard to railroad safety. As a senior member of the FRA leadership team, the Deputy Associate Administrator is a primary source of executive advice and leadership for Office of Railroad Safety operations and safety standards as well as policy development. The Deputy Associate Administrator is responsible for planning and ensuring the execution of FRA safety policies, programs and activities and advancing overall organizational excellence within the Office of Railroad Safety.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — In closing remarks to the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting July 3, TD President John Previsich said that recent actions of government agencies under the umbrella of the federal Department of Transportation will not go unchallenged.
Actions by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regarding safety issues have shown that those agencies have stepped away from their duties of overseeing the safety of communities and of the nation’s transportation workers, he said.
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich addresses the closing session of the San Diego Regional Meeting at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel on July 3.
The FRA’s withdrawal of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in May plus a similar action within days by the FMCSA that withdrew a notice regarding bus operator safety is a starting point to what will be a challenging period for our union, Previsich said.
All options, including litigation, are being explored to challenge what Previsich had described in testimony before a U.S. House Subcommittee as FRA’s abdication of its safety oversight responsibilities by withdrawing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding minimum crew size. Attorneys general from every state that have implemented legislation requiring two-person freight crews are being invited to join with labor to protect the state laws.
The effort will address FRA’s abuse of authority by withdrawing the NPR, ignoring the comments that were overwhelmingly in favor of a two-person crew rule and the agency’s attempt to pre-empt state laws. It will be a “concerted” effort with other labor organizations.
Previsich said that the union is planning on a multi-faceted approach to take on FRA while also challenging Congress to pursue legislation to correct FRA’s refusal to oversee safety on the nation’s railroads.
Attendees at the July 3 closing session of the San Diego Regional Meeting listen to TD President John Previsich’s remarks at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel.
State legislative action surrounding two-person rail crews also will be ongoing, he said, and more details of our efforts as well as additional actions for members to take will be communicated in the near future.
“There is going to be a big push coming,” Previsich said. “We are going to reach out to you when the proper time comes and ask for your assistance. I think your members will be proud of their union and where we’re going with this.”
All brothers and sisters should then contact their legislators directly to explain our issues to their U.S. House and Senate representatives, and why the current bills regarding transportation safety are important. An in-person visit, an option advocated by National Legislative Director John Risch during the Regional Meeting’s opening session, helps to personalize and drive these issues home no matter what political party the public official identifies with.
The TD Legislative Action Center is a one-stop repository that has information on federal bills advocating bus and transit operator safety, freight rail crew size and yardmaster safety.
“There’s nothing more important in this environment today — in this political climate that we’re in — that we get access, and we get access through PAC,” Previsich said.
On the second day of the meeting, SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. addressed the new leaders in attendance and encouraged them to take advantage of all resources available to them in both the Washington, D.C., and in the Cleveland offices.
The TD Regional Meeting theme — “Your Union Leading the Way” — was particularly appropriate this year — members “need to understand that ‘Your union’ is our union … 200,000 members are part of our union,” Sellers said. “And ‘leading the way’ means you leading the way, meaning us leading the way meaning leaders and members leading the way.”
In a time of upheaval in the industries that SMART members are employed in, efforts to grow the organization will continue to be a priority, and officers will take an important role in those efforts.
“We must continue to grow. We must organize, organize, organize — internal organizing, external organizing, making sure every worker is a SMART member,” Sellers said.
SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr., delivers opening remarks on Tuesday, July 2, the second day of the SMART Transportation Division Regional Meeting in San Diego, Calif.
From all levels of the union, it is up to everyone to take responsibility for the safety of themselves and build and maintain a strong foundation and maintain a powerful and nimble network that can take collective action to protect ourselves and the legacy our union represents, Sellers said.
“I want to make sure that we continue to build that foundation, that we continue to form this union so that future generations will have the same opportunity, enjoy that same representation, enjoy the same benefits of a collective bargaining agreement and enjoy a retirement particularly at a time when many people won’t have a retirement or work pension.”
Support from the SMART Army has brought results — members’ efforts beat back Right to Work For Less legislation in Washington one day after a call for mobilization at the state’s Capitol, and helped to get two-person crew legislation passed in Colorado and Nevada this year. They’ve also mobilized to defend proposed pension changes in Congress.
“As we build that, we will do better,” he said.
To join, text SMART Army to 21333.
In closing the meeting, Previsich announced that the 2020 TD Regional Meeting will be held in its home base of Cleveland, Ohio, at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown from Aug. 24 to 26.
The three-day San Diego meeting at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel featured more than 30 educational workshops intended to assist officers and strengthen our union at every level.
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich testifies Thursday afternoon before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.
SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich appeared before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials to testify on the state of the railroad workforce.
Rather than use his prepared written testimony, he delivered a statement in response to the testimony given earlier in the hearing by Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Ron Batory. In his statement, President Previsich told the representatives about issues crucial to the rail labor workforce, including what he described as FRA’s “abdication” of its safety oversight duties in the wake of its withdrawal last month of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding a minimum train crew size.
He also addressed questions posed by subcommittee members on subjects including Congress’s role in helping to ensure a safe working environment for rail workers, the national Safe Freight Act two-person crew legislation and the role of technology, including automation, and its effects on the rail labor workforce.
A video of President Previsich’s testimony and responses is embedded below.
By John Previsich, SMART TD President, and Dennis Pierce, BLET National President
On Thursday, May 23, 2019, we were informed that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) had released a notice, withdrawing a 2016 notice of proposed rulemaking establishing a minimum train crew size for most rail freight operations in the United States. This news was not surprising.
What is shocking, however, is the degree to which FRA has chosen to subordinate the safety of BLET and SMART TD members, other railroad workers, and the American public to the interests of the nation’s major railroads.
FRA’s reference to current crew sizes, which have existed for decades, as mere “crew redundancy” displays an astonishing ignorance of the findings of the agency’s own research studies, which establish — in detail and beyond dispute — the unique and specific duties of each crewmember.
FRA also disappointingly engages in self-serving fact selection in its attempts to negate the importance of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic tragedy and the Casselton, North Dakota, oil train derailment — and subsequent explosion and fire — to the crew size debate. And it simply ignores several subsequent accidents where a two-person crew saved the public from an even more horrific outcome.
In its rush to diminish the safety impact of common-sense crew size regulations, FRA also points to various regulations requiring risk analyses and the adoption of risk reduction plans by railroads. While our Organizations fully support such plans, we note that Congress mandated regulations governing these subjects more than a decade ago, but they have yet to be promulgated because of industry recalcitrance and obstructionism.
Also, the argument that two-person crews have not been proven safer — because of FRA’s failure to collect crew size data — while the data support a conclusion that single-person crews are not demonstrably less safe is mystifying in its logic, to be charitable.
Moreover, the federal rail safety regulator hints that there is no “specific requirement that would prohibit autonomous technology from operating a locomotive or train” in the absence of any human crewmember whatsoever as a means of “reducing accidents caused by human error.” If the ongoing grounding of the Boeing MAX aircraft has taught nothing else, FRA and the Department of Transportation should be mindful of the danger of transferring the risk of a human factors accident from operator to programmer when autonomous technology is implemented. For this reason, FRA’s declared “support [for] the integration and implementation of new automation technologies” on the nation’s locomotives should give everyone pause.
Lastly, the Agency’s invocation of the negative preemption doctrine is incredible. Both the industry and the Agency reject prescriptive safety regulations as a philosophical matter, because they supposedly require a “one size fits all” approach; indeed, this was part of the industry’s argument against the proposed rule.
In stark contrast to this philosophy, FRA’s invocation of negative preemption seeks to promulgate a prescriptive prohibition, regardless of the implications of its action on federalism. In so doing, the valid safety concerns expressed by supporters of the proposed rule such as National League of Cities — representing more than 19,000 cities, villages, and towns — and the Western Organization of Resource Councils are dismissed out of hand.
We frankly did not expect this Administration to complete this rulemaking, but we did afford the new Federal Railroad Administrator a fair opportunity to demonstrate that safety was his primary objective. Given the scope of this withdrawal, the Administrator has clearly failed the test, because he has placed corporate profits above public safety. Railroad safety has taken a giant step backward today, but our Organizations do not intend to let this development go unchallenged.
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 over 57,500 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) May 8 announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to update the regulation that governs locomotive engineer qualification and certification to make it consistent with the corresponding regulation for conductors.
“The proposed revisions would modernize locomotive engineer certification regulations to match those for train conductors, and provide regulatory efficiencies and cost savings without compromising safety,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said. “The proposal would streamline the engineer certification process, and reduce paperwork burdens for the responsible parties.”
The proposed rule would adopt the conductor certification regulation process established in 2012 by making conforming amendments to the engineer certification regulation, which was first issued in 1991 and last amended in 2000. Consistent with Executive Order 13771, the proposed rule would reduce overall regulatory reporting and cost burdens for railroads and locomotive engineers. Harmonization of the conductor and engineer regulations would also provide greater clarity to locomotive engineers.
The NPRM includes the following five proposed changes to Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 240:
Clarifies locomotive engineer certification requirements (Part 240) and aligns them with conductor certification requirements (Part 242) to make it easier for railroad certification managers to become familiar with and administer both regulations.
Reduces the reporting burden of a person’s former employer to clarify that only certain listed information in the individual’s railroad service record that directly relates to FRA’s requirements in the certification regulation needs to be shared.
Defers the requirement for railroads to seek a waiver from annual testing of certified locomotive engineers when individuals take an extended absence from performing service requiring certification.
Modernizes the dispute resolution process by reducing the paperwork burdens for both employees and railroads and allowing for web-based dockets.
Simplifies the submission process by which qualification and certification programs are modified by allowing electronic submissions.
The proposed revisions for locomotive engineer qualification and certification ensure that certain provisions are consistent, to the extent possible, with those for conductors. FRA is seeking comments on the proposed rule, and will address comments received when preparing a final rule. Comments may be submitted to the docket for the proceeding FRA-2018-0053, and are due by July 8, 2019. Read the full proposed rule here.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will have some major shoes to fill with the April 13, 2019, retirement of Robert “Bob” Lauby, the agency’s chief safety officer.
Lauby had served in that capacity for FRA since September 2013. He was a frequent presenter at SMART Transportation Division regional meetings and worked to provide regulatory oversight for rail safety in the United States while overseeing the development and enforcement of safety regulations and programs related to the rail industry.
“Serving as the associate administrator for Railroad Safety and FRA’s chief safety officer is one of the highlights of my career,” Lauby said. “The job has been both challenging and fulfilling.
“Over the years, we grappled with many important issues and have significantly changed the industry for the better.”
Lauby had a hand in several regulatory safety efforts at FRA such as Positive Train Control, conductor certification, training requirements, drug and alcohol testing for maintenance of way employees, roadway worker protection, passenger equipment standards, system safety and others.
Other safety oversight improvements happened as a result of major accidents. Some of the major ones included crude-oil accidents at Lac Megantic, Ontario, Canada; Mount Carbon, W.Va.; and other locations; commuter train accidents at Spuyten Duyvil and Valhalla, N.Y.; and Amtrak passenger train accidents in Philadelphia and Chester, Pa.; Dupont, Wash.; and Cayce, S.C.
“No matter the challenges swirling around him, Bob had safety in mind,” said National Legislative Director John Risch. “He’s been great to work with and one of the most committed, level-headed professionals in the rail industry.”
Lauby said that he treasured any interaction he could have with members of rail labor as these helped to broaden his perspective about whom he was working to protect.
“I always took time to talk to the SMART TD membership to get their complaints, opinions, and perspectives on the latest industry issues,” Lauby said. “I often left enlightened or with a new perspective.
“Railroad managers are experts on what is supposed to happen. SMART TD members are experts on what actually happens. They always know what works and what does not work.”
In his more-than-40-year career, Lauby’s railroad and transit experience included safety, security, accident investigation, project management, project engineering, manufacturing and vehicle maintenance.
He joined the FRA in August 2009 as staff director of its newly established Passenger Rail Division in the agency’s Office of Safety and was later promoted to deputy associate administrator for regulatory and legislative operations at FRA. One of his responsibilities in that role was to oversee the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC).
Prior to his time at FRA, Lauby was director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Railroad Safety, overseeing hundreds of rail accident investigations for NTSB and coordinating with our union’s Transportation Safety Team in many investigations. He was NTSB’s representative on RSAC.
Lauby addressed SMART TD members in a workshop at the 2018 Seattle, Washington, regional meeting.
“At our regional meetings, I would introduce Bob and tell the troops that Bob was the big gun and can handle all the tough questions, which he always did,” Risch said at a party celebrating Lauby’s retirement in late March.
Lauby said he took his multiple presentations at TD regional meetings, including at the Seattle regional meeting last July, seriously — he felt he owed it to the attendees to give them useful information.
“I looked forward to the meetings each year and spent hours preparing my presentation and preparing for the questions I would get at the end – during the Q and A session,” he said. “I wanted the material I presented to be timely and useful to the membership, and I always tried to include the inside scoop – the stuff nobody else would talk about!”
But the benefits from his visits and interactions went both ways, he said, and showing up at the meetings gave him a fresh perspective on the industry.
“I always enjoyed speaking to the SMART TD membership – both at the Regional Meetings and when they were on their jobs,” Lauby said. “Whenever I traveled by train, I tried to spend time with the train crew or ride the head end to find out the issues of the day.
“I learned more about railroading from the working men and women of the railroad industry than from anyone else.”
Lauby’s departure is leaving a vacancy that FRA will have a difficult time filling, Risch said.
“No one will really fill your shoes because there is no one with the knowledge and experience to do that,” he told Lauby at his retirement party. “You committed your working life to rail safety, you have been a good friend of mine and a good friend to railroad workers everywhere.
“We wish you all the best as you enter this next stage of your life.”
Lauby said his career leaves him with a sense of gratitude.
“I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the industry I love, in a role where I felt I could make a difference,” Lauby said. “I will miss the thousands of people I interacted with each year. That includes the FRA employees and railroad industry labor and management … all the folks I dealt with at the various RSAC meetings. People are the most important part of any organization and the railroad industry is no different.”