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.
However, the route to passage into law is currently in the hands of H.F. 1555, the Transportation Omnibus bill, as Section 97.
“This legislative pathway remains our only viable way to passage into law this year,” said SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy. “We need the vocal support of members and retirees alike in the state in order to pass in the state Senate.”
Qualy encourages members, retirees and their friends and family to call or email the Republican state senators on the H.F. 1555 Conference Committee and ask them to pass Section 97, Minimum Train Crew Requirement this year. They can call and spell out the important public safety aspects and assistance to first responders that two-person crews provide in the case of a railroad emergency as well as general operations such as train securement, uncoupling road crossings, and local safety hazards in their area, Qualy said.
A list of key senators to be contacted appears below.
SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy reports that two-person crew legislation has passed in his state’s House of Representatives as part of H.F. 1555, an omnibus transportation bill, and that a push by members and retirees alike will be needed to get it through the state Senate to the governor.
The bill passed Monday, April 29, by a 74-52 party-line vote and now moves on to the Minnesota Senate’s Transportation Conference Committee. Section 93 of the bill contains a provision setting a minimum crew size for freight trains operating in the state. H.F. 1555 also contains other important rail safety provisions, including Section 90, which set forth the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s enforcement of state safety regulations and maintenance of way track equipment crossing protections.
“The outcome of that conference committee will most likely determine whether minimum train crew language is passed into law,” Qualy said.
Qualy said that the effort of every SMART TD member and retiree in Minnesota is necessary to pass this important legislation to keep the state’s communities safe. Members, retirees and their friends and family are encouraged to call or email their state senators to talk about the important public safety aspects and assistance to first responders that two-person crews provide on the state’s rails in the case of a railroad emergency. A list of key senators to be contacted appears below.
“We need all railroad workers standing together in support of this legislation,” he said. “We need our members at the capitol. Please make your calls and emails today.”
Members of the Minnesota State Senate who should be contacted include:
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) ruled in favor of safe train operations in June by denying a request by Canadian National (CN) that sought a waiver allowing an extinguished intermediate signal aspect to provide a signal indication.
The SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Board filed comments in opposition to CN’s waiver request in a letter submitted in February.
“Apparently, CN seeks to avoid the expense of repairing and improving a defective signal system rather than recognizing the importance of a red signal aspect and the information that indication conveys to a train crew,” SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy said in the letter. “CN’s application seeks to normalize a dangerous and non-compliant operating practice.”
FRA received numerous comments, including a joint submission by SMART TD’s National Legislative Department, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS) and Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (TCU/IAM) in opposition to CN’s request, and it was announced June 25 that FRA sided with the opposition.
“Had (CN) been successful, this would have set a precedent and been a nightmare for train crews,” Qualy said. “This denial is also a very significant application denial that is in our favor.”
Qualy said SMART TD Local 1292 Legislative Representative Dan Archambeau and Local 1067 Legislative Representative Nick Katich and others were thanked by FRA officials for bringing the issue to the agency’s attention.
Earlier in the month, FRA denied a request by the Association of American Railroads to lengthen the amount of permissible off-air time from four to 24 hours for rail brake tests.
SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Board has proudly announced today its endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’s campaign for governor of Minnesota.
“Congressman Walz’s work with our union since 2006 for railroad safety and service distinguishes his efforts in the 2018 election cycle,” said SMART TD Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy. “Since serving as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads with former Congressman James Oberstar, Tim Walz has always had an open door for railroad labor.”
Walz has cosponsored multiple versions of SMART TD’s key legislative priority The Safe Freight Act that requires a certified conductor and certified engineer on all trains, authored bipartisan energy legislation and holds a strong reputation in Congress for working in a bipartisan manner across party lines, Qualy said.
“Tim Walz is a friend of railroad labor and our retirees,” Qualy said. “Our state committee believes that having worked in Washington, he brings a wealth of knowledge home and can bring needed resources to our state. As our next governor, Tim Walz’s common-sense values, pragmatism and enthusiasm will serve Minnesotans well.”
Prior to joining Congress in 2007 and representing Minnesota’s First District, Walz was a high school teacher for 20 years in Mankato Minn., where he coached Mankato West to the state football championship. An avid outdoor sportsman, Walz also served in the National Guard, where he achieved the highest enlisted rank of any member in Congress who served in the Guard.
“Among some very good candidates for governor, Tim Walz has earned strong support from railroad labor and our retirees,” Qualy said. “The Minnesota 2018 elections are crucial to the future of railroad labor and our state.”
In addition to Walz, SMART TD’s Railroad Workers Committee also screened gubernatorial candidates Erin Murphy and state Auditor Rebecca Otto May 18th in St. Paul. Qualy said all received “excellent” ratings from the committee.
“We look forward to a positive and productive working relationship with Tim Walz in the Minnesota Governor’s Office” said Qualy.
“I encourage all of our SMART TD members to get involved with your Local, be sure you are registered to vote, and vote for your job and your pension first this November. Minnesota’s working families must unite this fall to keep this state a great place to live and work,” he said.
The Minnesota Senate Committee on Transportation and Public Safety and the Senate Committee on Judiciary have approved legislation requiring two qualified train-crew personnel on all trains in the state with bipartisan support.
Senate File 918 is now before the full Minnesota Senate.
“The policy language is very narrow to assure that we can prevail under any test of federal pre-emption from the carriers,” said SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy. “We are emphasizing public safety as we must because that is what this is about. We have set forth that Amtrak and passenger rail operations are included under this legislation.”
“In event any train should run with one person, the second and subsequent fine is for $1,000 for each train.”
In his testimony before the Committee on Judiciary March 19, Qualy said, “Railroads have two persons on all trains. Our S.F. 918 poses no undue burden on commerce. Regarding grade crossing emergency response, for the railroad workers of Minnesota, I submit that we simply cannot leave injured persons lying unattended in the ditches of Minnesota.” Read Qualy’s complete testimony here.
Unfortunately, Qualy said, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has so far refused to hear companion legislation House File 1166, to date.
“We are sending a letter of appeal to the Republican leadership with the amended Senate language that originated from bipartisan Senate recommendations,” he said.
“We’ve had a good week thus far, but we are far, far away from passing this state legislation into law. The Minnesota Legislative Board thanks all of our members who attended the hearings this week. We also want to thank our good friend, Mr. Larry Mann, who assisted the board and testified in support of this important legislation.”
“The board thanks Minnesota Assistant State Legislative Director Nicholas Katich (1067), Designated Legal Counsel Cortney LeNeave and Ron Barzcak, Minnesota AFL-CIO Legislative Director Jennifer Schaubach, and most importantly, State Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-Dist. 45), who authored and sponsored this legislation.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Amtrak inaugurated service to Union Depot in St. Paul May 7, effective with the arrival of the Empire Builder from Chicago. Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman was among several transportation leaders who cut the ribbon for the first-ever Amtrak service in Downtown St. Paul.
Officials with Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA), owners of Union Depot, welcomed federal, state and local officials – and the general public – to the station in St. Paul’s Lowertown, with the ticket office at Union Depot’s Kellogg Entry at 240 Kellogg Blvd., E.
SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Director Phillip Qualy was also in attendance to greet Boardman and attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“The SMART Transportation Division, formerly the UTU, continues to work as a member of the Minnesota DOT’s passenger rail office in support of Amtrak’s Twin Cities-Chicago additional train frequencies, an Amtrak extension to St. Cloud, the Rochester Zip Line, Duluth NLX and with advocacy for regional services,” Qualy said.
“As a reminder , in 2013, UTU/SMART was chief advocate for legislation passed into law that provided Minnesota’s DOT with authority to contract with Amtrak and assures any new-start passenger or commuter rail service will be operated with train crew’s covered under the Railway Labor Act, FELA, FRSA, and U.S. Railroad Retirement Board rights preserved and in place.”
The Amtrak schedule is slightly different at Union Depot from those at that the former Midway Station between St. Paul and Minneapolis, which no longer has any public functions. The westbound Empire Builder (Train 7/27) arrives at 10:10 p.m. and the eastbound Empire Builder (Train 8/28) arrives at 8:00 a.m.
At Union Depot, Amtrak travelers can connect from more than 500 destinations to intercity buses, Metro Transit and MVTA bus services. Next month, Metro Transit’s Green Line will provide additional capacity to a growing and diverse regional transportation system.
“We know from experience that travel brings business – and that stations bring business to the surrounding community,” Boardman said. “While we’re celebrating the fact that today the people of the Twin Cities will now have more travel choices than ever before, we can also celebrate the fact that they have a station that’s also an engine – an engine of economic development for the surrounding neighborhood and historic district.”
“With Amtrak, the range of transportation options at Union Depot expands opportunities for travel connections throughout the Upper Midwest and beyond. Our beautifully restored building is achieving our vision as a multimodal transit facility and a unique gathering place for people – whether they are travelers passing through, living in St. Paul, stopping in the area for business, or here to attend one of many social or cultural events this region has to offer,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, chair, RCRRA.
Funding for the $243 million project was obtained from a diverse mix of federal, state and local agencies. One of the largest grants was $45.3 million allocated under Section 1301 of SAFETEA-LU, the federal transportation bill for fiscal years 2005-2009. These funds were specifically distributed to large-scale projects of national or regional significance. In early 2010, the RCRRA was awarded a $35 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Forty million dollars came through the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, while $4 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Bus and Bus Facilities Program helped finance the new bus terminal. Other funds used in the project were obtained from state bonds and a tax levy imposed by the RCRRA.
“In addition to improving transportation, this project has created more than 4,000 jobs and has led to a surge in housing and retail development in St. Paul,” said Karen Hedlund, Deputy Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration. “This is what we can achieve — in Minnesota and nationwide — if we continue investing in passenger rail.”
“It’s a great day to welcome passenger rail back to Saint Paul, and no better place to do it than the historic Union Depot—a building that would have met the wrecking ball if not for the leadership of its many champions from the County Board to the White House,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. “The Amtrak opening today and the Green Line opening in just a few weeks is proof that transportation investments are critical to economic growth and regional prosperity.
“We thank the President and Transportation Secretary Foxx for their continuing commitment to improving our roads, bridges and rail systems, and we look forward to helping them pass the next major transportation bill.”
Amtrak will soon deliver a report to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) regarding an additional round-trip on the Empire Builder’s route between St. Paul and Chicago, one of four passenger rail corridors being considered by the state.
“MnDOT is committed to be multimodal and to pursue a multimodal vision,” said state transportation commissioner Charles Zelle. “We will develop a robust intrastate and interstate passenger rail system in Minnesota.”
Amtrak notified previously booked passengers of the change in service locations in St. Paul prior to this morning’s event, which was attended by more than 200 people. The celebration continues through this Saturday, May 10, with Union Depot hosting a National Train Day event.
SMART Transportation Division Minnesota State Legislative Phillip Qualy, right, meets Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, center, and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman May 7 at the St. Paul’s Union Depot.