Proposed rule: “Competitive Passenger Rail Service Pilot Program”
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register August 22. This proposed rulemaking from the FRA is a direct result of Section 11307 of the FAST Act which requires FRA to implement a pilot program for competitive selection of petitioners other than Amtrak to operate up to three long-distance routes currently operated by Amtrak. The final rule will establish the procedures for interested parties to submit bids and the information that petitioners must submit to FRA. It will also establish the procedures for the Secretary to evaluate bids, and select and notify selected petitioners, should there be any.
SMART TD, TTD and all of rail labor opposed this concept and other privatization mandates as the bill was going through the legislative process and fought to remove it or include conditions that would protect workers and create a level playing field if it ever went into effect. In the end, while the pilot provision stayed in the final bill, a number of conditions were attached to it at our request and it was limited to three long-distance routes. Given the political realities we face on the Hill and the opposition to Amtrak that exists, this was not an easy task.
National Legislative Director John Risch on TTD’s comments:
“The comments filed by TTD urge FRA to ensure that labor, service and Buy America rules that attach to this program are fully implemented. Specifically, TTD’s comments call on FRA to ensure that so-called 4R rail employee protections cover workers impacted by this program. As TTD notes in their comments, we think the law requires this result, but we need to make sure the FRA implements this in the right way. I should note that Rich Edelman, on behalf of the BMWE (which was not included in TTD’s comments since they are not members) also filed comments. Edelman, who has a strong background in this area of the law, goes into more detail on the legal background on the protections which should be helpful. It is important to note that both TTD and Edelman’s comments are on the same page. (Click here to read Edelman’s comments.) They demand 4R act protections and our comments have a whole section that talks about why they are legally needed to be applied and specifically ask that the proposed regulations be amended to require any winning bidder be responsible for those protections. We also are asking FRA to issue guidance to adopt them to this situation.
“TTD’s comments also urge FRA to adopt hiring preferences and procedures for Amtrak employees and to ensure that any new entity is covered by rail laws just like Amtrak is today.
“We all need to keep this in perspective. Amtrak receives preferential pricing from the Class 1’s to operate over their track, something the Class 1’s have for years decried as inadequate. A new entrant will not likely receive nearly as good an operating rate as Amtrak currently does. If there is a winning competitive bidder on any of these three routes they will only receive 90 percent of the funding that Amtrak currently receives to provide the service making the bidding process even harder.”
SMART TD Testifies before FRA
Today, September 7, the FRA held a public hearing on the proposed rule. SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch was at the hearing and testified on behalf of SMART TD. Click here to read his comments.
California has more museums dedicated to railroads than any other state in our country – and it’s easy to see why. From the transcontinental railroad to the developing high-speed rail system, rail transportation has played a significant role in shaping this state’s history.
The people of California believe passenger rail is key to the state’s future, too. At a public hearing in Modesto last summer, plans to improve and expand passenger rail service received overwhelming support from area residents, Republicans and Democrats alike. And a new poll prepared by Dean Mitchell of DFM Research found those same sentiments are shared by the people of California’s 10th Congressional District.
Those living in the district enjoy six daily Amtrak train routes in the San Joaquin Valley, running from Bakersfield to Sacramento and the Bay Area. More than 8 of 10 polled say they want to see Amtrak service increased or at least remain the same, and more than 80 percent want commuter rail services increased or maintained at current levels.
Modesto-area residents aren’t alone. As Amtrak continues to grow in popularity – ridership hit an all-time high in 2014 with 31 million passengers – an overwhelming majority of Americans support increasing passenger rail service in all parts of the country, both in traditionally blue and red states from the south to the Midwest and Northeast.
Sadly, not everyone is hearing this call.
Some in Congress continue to fight the old anti-Amtrak wars by proposing the elimination of all federal funding to support the service, which would bankrupt the railroad and strand riders in California and across America. While those efforts have failed, the persistence of anti-passenger rail forces has brought headwinds to efforts to advance a robust passenger rail expansion and modernization plan.
Like the vast majority of Americans, most residents of Stanislaus County and the surrounding areas have shown they don’t agree with such proposals. In fact, when told that Amtrak gets over $1 billion per year in federal support, more than 80 percent say they reject attempts to eliminate it and want to continue the current funding level.
In addition to expanded passenger rail service, Californians also say emphatically that they favor policies making rail transportation safer.
Not unlike the views of most Americans, the idea of running 19,000-ton freight trains – many containing hazardous materials – with only one crew member doesn’t sit well with the people of the 10th Congressional District. With up to 50 freight trains running through the region each day, a stunning 95 percent of residents support a state law requiring a minimum of two crew members on all freight trains running through California – such as the one signed into law in September by Gov. Jerry Brown.
More than 90 percent of those surveyed want national legislation mandating the same thing. This issue impacts passenger rail safety as well, because in most parts of the country Amtrak shares the tracks with freight trains.
Californians understand that having a safe, efficient rail system is vital to a strong economy. We need actions that can bring relief to a clogged transportation system that is choking productivity, stunting job creation and undermining efforts to grow our economy. California voters couldn’t be more clear: they like passenger rail service, they want more of it and they expect their elected officials to make it as safe as possible.
Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, issued the following statement about the U.S. House Representatives passage of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA):
“Today the House of Representatives took an important step to sustain Amtrak, America’s national passenger railroad. The overwhelming vote today on the floor of the House also demonstrates that the nation’s largest transportation challenges can be met with bipartisan cooperation and problem solving.
“As transportation unions recently declared in our Executive Committee policy statement, we now have an opportunity to set in motion a long-term vision for federal passenger rail policy. We are pleased that the House has endorsed a multi-year investment for Amtrak at a time when the railroad and its workforce are dealing with rising demand and aging equipment and infrastructure. While we will continue to advocate for higher federal funding levels for Amtrak, PRRIA gives Amtrak a measure of certainty as it advances long-term modernization plans.
“We are especially pleased that the House rejected an amendment that would have zeroed out Amtrak, hollowed out our only national passenger railroad, and destroyed thousands of middle-class jobs. Amtrak is an important driver of jobs and economic development and, like all areas of our transportation system, requires federal support in order to thrive. By voting against the McClintock amendment, members of Congress rejected the idea that the federal government should abdicate its responsibility to fund a key component of our national transportation system.
“Today’s bipartisan action in the House shows that members of Congress have heard Americans across the country who have called for increased passenger rail service. I especially want to thank Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio, as well as Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham and Ranking Member Michael Capuano, for crafting this bill and moving it through the House.
“As PRRIA advances in the Senate, we will continue to oppose privatization mandates, outsourcing schemes, and other so-called reforms that would undermine Amtrak and its workforce and that were rejected in the House bill. At the same time, we will push for funding levels necessary to meet the long-term needs of our neglected passenger rail system and ensure that Amtrak is in a position to provide the type and level of service Americans are calling for.”
The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO issued the following statement on the train accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that happened one year this week:
This week marks the one year anniversary of a tragic rail accident – a runaway train carrying 72 cars of crude ran into Lac-Megantic, Quebec killing 47 people and demolishing an entire town. While millions of carloads and containers traverse the country safely each year, too many accidents have occurred lately both in the freight and passenger sector. While the causes of these accidents vary and many investigations are ongoing, what is known is that more must be done to ensure that rail transportation is as safe and secure as possible for employees and the public.
For starters, too many rail workers, especially those responsible for operating trains and maintaining safety-sensitive equipment, are forced to report to work tired and fatigued. TTD has long called for federal rules to be changed to ensure that employees are given proper notice of when they will need to report to work and predictable schedules so that adequate rest can be secured.
Congress must also step in to stop rail companies from only “counting” certain hours that signal employees work as a way to get around federal rules limiting on-duty time. Let’s just say that there are some rail executives using creative calculating when it comes to adding up “covered work.” The problem is that this isn’t a game, and it is jeopardizing safety.
Congress must also adopt a mandated minimum crew size for freight train operations. Last year’s accident in Lac-Megantic, caused by a train that was operated by a single crew member, is a tragic reminder of the dangers posed by risky one-person rail operations. A freight train is massive – up to 19,000 tons and a mile and a half long – that simply should not be operated by one individual, especially given the myriad operating rules and regulations that must be followed. And while two-person crews are the norm on U.S. freight lines, crew size is often an issue determined by collective bargaining rather than federal mandate. Safety should not be bartered at the negotiating table. And by the way, the public agrees with us on this, with a series of polls showing that up to 9 out of 10 Americans believe #2crewtrains should be a national standard.
Fortunately, some lawmakers are taking steps to address rail safety. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jim Himes (D-CT), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) introduced legislation (H.R. 4576) earlier this year that mandates predictable and defined work and rest schedules and Congressman Michaud (D-ME) introduced a bill (H.R. 3040) requiring a minimum crew size for freight trains. We also applaud the Department of Transportation and its Federal Railroad Administration for moving on a new proposed rule on two-person train crew requirements. Strong federal action is needed because we know from experience that the rail lobby will dismiss and downplay these dangerous operating practices.
In addition, first responders require the necessary tools and training to effectively respond to rail accidents, particularly those involving hazardous materials. Domestic oil production has boomed and the amount of crude oil being shipped by rail has increased 70-fold in the last decade. Despite that fact, many firefighters receive an inadequate level of training that does little more than teach them to call for help in the case of a hazardous materials incident. Congress must direct adequate resources to states and localities for first responder training but also ensure that the level of training is sufficient.
This week’s anniversary of the tragedy in Lac-Megantic is a glaring reminder that it’s not just the workers on these trains that are endangered by unsafe rail industry practices. The neighborhoods and cities through which these trains travel should care just as much. Congress and the Administration must take strong, immediate action to close gaps in rail safety that expose too many to unnecessary risks.
Last month in Olympia, Wash., passengers on a city bus witnessed their driver being brutally beaten in an attack that was caught on video for the world to see. The footage is alarming and sickening. It was not, unfortunately, uncommon.
From sexual and physical assaults to verbal abuse, the nation’s bus drivers are facing an epidemic of hostility. In the New York area alone there are seven attacks per month on average that range from spitting to beatings to stabbings, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Other cities see the same level of hostility against drivers, meaning it is time to address this problem at the national level.
Last fall, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, called on the Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration to hold a summit on bus driver assaults. Today, with the blood-soaked face of the Olympia bus driver fresh in our minds, we renew that call.
We must evaluate new measures, and new technologies, being used successfully in parts of our country and abroad to protect drivers and their passengers, who often get dragged into the fray. The installation of Plexiglas partitions to separate drivers from passengers or other changes to a driver’s seating area, are options to consider. Another is the presence of uniformed police officers on buses, and tougher penalties for those who do attack drivers. Other steps include video surveillance and better training for drivers. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has started offering rewards of up to $2,000 for information that leads to the arrest and indictment of those assaulting drivers.
The solutions to curb violence against bus drivers are out there – we have simply lacked the will to implement them. This must change, and we can start by holding a national summit with transit unions, public transportation leaders, local law enforcement and the appropriate federal government agencies.
Let’s not wait until statistics on physical attacks become numbers of fatalities. The men and women who help keep America moving deserve better. They deserve the safest working environment this country can offer.
The UTU, other labor unions and the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO are jointly tackling workplace training, discipline and other workplace safety and economic issues on behalf of school bus drivers.
Nationwide, school bus drivers face daily challenges in their work, with their employers and with school bus districts.
Not to brag, but the UTU supplied the most comprehensive list of issues that impact school bus drivers. Those issues reveal a need for more specialized training, better strategies for preventing students from opening emergency exits while the bus is in motion, installation of electronic alerts as to when students unfasten their seatbelts, assigning monitors aboard buses, and implementation of a more realistic agility test requirement for drivers.
The UTU also has taken the lead in pushing for improved job security for school bus drivers. Too often, drivers are furloughed because of subcontracting, and disqualified from service without just cause.
Legislatively, the UTU is lobbying for increased and more reliable public funding for school bus operations, limitations on the ability of schools to subcontract driving responsibilities, and to correct legislation that puts a CDL at risk for driver infractions when operating their personal vehicles. The UTU also is fighting limitations on benefits for part-time drivers.
All these issues were discussed in a recent joint conference call hosted by TTD. Besides myself, UTU officers participating in the call included Alternate National Legislative Director John Risch and New Jersey State Legislative Director Dan O’Connell. A result was creation of a comprehensive list of legislative objectives that will be pursued jointly by the UTU, the AFL-CIO and other TTD-member unions.