Legislators in both the North Carolina state House and Senate have introduced bills to keep freight rail operations on the state’s more than 3,300 miles of track running safely and efficiently. A bus safety bill is also in the works in the state.
H.B. 408 and S. 348 require a crew of at least two qualified people in the operating locomotive of trains transporting cargo and hazardous materials in the state for public safety. H.B. 408 has four bipartisan primary sponsors including Rep. Wayne Sasser (R – Dist. 67), Rep. Carolyn Logan (D – Dist. 101), Rep. Charles Graham (D – Dist. 47) and Rep. Verla Insko (D – Dist. 56), and 30 co-sponsors. The Senate version of the bill got a late start due to the Ninth Circuit court ruling and so S. 348 only has two Democratic primary sponsors including Sen. Sarah Crawford (D – Dist. 18) and Sen. Julie Mayfield (D – Dist. 49), and three co-sponsors. Both bills have had their first reading and have been referred to the Transportation Committee and Rules Committee, respectively.
Ron Ingerick, SMART-TD North Carolina state legislative director
“It is vitally important to maintain the presence of two crew members in the locomotive,” said Ron Ingerick, North Carolina state legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division. “Despite any advances in technology, there is a safety factor called ‘the Rule of 2’ in having the engineer and the conductor in the cab, just like how airplanes have pilots and co-pilots. With the size and complexity of the modern freight train, each crew member has responsibilities, and simultaneously performs duties in providing safe and efficient operation. These crew members are the first responders to a grade crossing collision, derailment or other emergency situation.
“The public safety of our communities is non-negotiable, and H.B. 408 and S. 348 will help prevent potential accidents or derailments. The citizens of North Carolina deserve to feel safer with two crew members in the cab in the trains that roll through their communities, day and night.”
Another bill filed in the House looks to curtail railroads’ use of giant trains that block crossings. H.B. 438, filed March 29, has three Republican representatives as primary sponsors: Rep. Howard Penny (R – Dist. 53), Rep. Jerry Carter (R – Dist. 65) and Rep. Mike Clampitt (R – Dist. 119). The bi-partisan bill currently has 21 co-sponsors — two of which are the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Transportation Committee — and is still accepting more. H.B. 438 intends to place a limitation on train length, which has been growing from an average length of a mile and a half five years ago to now sometimes exceeding four miles. The main culprit is an operating strategy initiated in 2017 by the nation’s biggest railroads called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR).
“Since the evolution of PSR, trains in this state have increased in length and weight, with haphazard train builds, fewer safety-critical inspections, and maintenance being deferred —increasing the risk of derailments,” said Ingerick, who is an active railroader, as well as our N.C. state legislative director who brings awareness to legislators in Raleigh. “A train that is longer is harder to operate. Also, concerns have risen from local communities and emergency responders as these longer trains have increased instances of blocked crossings.”
Blocked rail crossings cause an inconvenience for motorists, who must find alternate routes, especially in rural areas. They also pose a safety risk to pedestrians who may attempt to go under or climb over rail cars to continue their travels. A blocked crossing can play a part in delaying or detouring emergency responses when seconds or minutes count, sending responders out of their way when their aid is needed.
“Railroads are looking at returns and how their stocks are doing on Wall Street,” Ingerick said. “PSR puts safety last and profit first and makes a dangerous business even riskier.”
Lastly, Ingerick reports that the Bus Safety Risk Reduction Act has been released from bill drafting and will be filed in the coming week. The bill will include risk analysis, barriers, de-escalation training and data collection.
“Overall, I feel that we’re in a good position right now concerning these bills, but we need continued involvement from the membership in order to get these bills passed,” Ingerick said.
Louisiana State Legislative Director Chris Christianson reports that legislators in his state have introduced a two-person crew bill – HB-776 – March 31 in the state House of Representatives. The bill, as currently written, requires two persons on all freight trains with the exception of hostler service or utility employees.
The bill also provides for penalties if carriers choose to violate the bill after it becomes law. For a first offense, carriers will be charged a minimum of $500, but not more than $1,000. A second offense increases the minimum to $1,000, but not more than $5,000 when the second offense is committed within a three-year period. For three or more violations, the bill provides for a minimum penalty of $5,000, but not more than $10,000 per offense within a three-year period.
The Louisiana Legislature has been adjourned until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a tough road ahead of us getting it passed with everything that is going on with COVID-19, but we are not going to give up,” Christianson said. “Right now, getting it moving in the Legislature will depend on how much time we have when the Legislature reconvenes.”
SMART Transportation Division Washington State Legislative Director Herb Krohn reports that, despite a last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler to quash it, the two-person freight crew legislation bill passed through the state Senate by a 34-15 vote.
“Schoesler attempted to shut down the Washington State Senate rather than allow our crewing bill to come to the floor for consideration and a vote,” Krohn said. “It’s an example of just how far the rail carriers and their allies are willing to go to kill off our safe train crewing bill as well as any other railroad safety legislation they oppose!”
Five Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them voted with every Senate Democrat in favor of the bill. The 15 senators who voted against H.B. 1841 were all Republican.
Krohn and the Washington State Legislative Board have been working for seven years to get the two-person crew legislation passed. Krohn has affectionately referred to H.B. 1841 as a “zombie” bill — it has been buried and put on hold numerous times by legislators but keeps coming back. It now enters the reconciliation phase because of differences in language involving short-line carriers between the Senate and House versions of the bill.
Krohn said the state House will consider amendments adopted by the Senate, and if representative do not agree upon the Senate amendments, a conference committee of two Democrats and one Republican from each chamber of the Legislature will be assigned to attempt to work out differences between the versions of this bill.
The deadline for the process is midnight March 12 — the last day of the 2020 legislative session. Once the reconciliation process is completed, the bill will be sent to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee.
“We may need to mobilize again to generate high levels of constituent contacts with state legislators to get this bill across the finish line,” Krohn said.
He urged members to be on the lookout for email blasts — contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org — to add your name and stay up-to-date.
He thanked all TD members, their families and friends and all who helped for their persistence in advocating for the legislation and getting it closer to the governor’s desk.
“We wouldn’t be here without your support and willingness to take action to help push our train crewing bill forward,” Krohn said.
Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs reports that H.B. 440, the two-person freight crew bill that has passed the state House, is scheduled for a hearing Monday, February 17, at the state Capitol.
“We’re asking all of our Virginia members and their families to spend the day to get the word out,” Hobbs said. “Now is the time for us to show our state senators the importance of this public safety matter.”
A two-person crew bill has been introduced in the Missouri Legislature, and we’ll need the support of SMART members in the region to help get the legislation passed.
H.B. 2229 was introduced January 16 by state Rep. Jim Neely (District 8), a Republican who is also a medical doctor. The bill, a joint effort of SMART-TD and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, has had two readings by members of the House and now sits on the desk of Speaker Elijah Haahr awaiting a committee assignment so a hearing can take place.
“We need your help to pressure Speaker Haahr to assign H.B. 2229 to a committee and move it forward,” SMART-TD Missouri State Legislative Director Jason Hayden said. “Phone calls and emails into his office asking him to move this bill are what we need. Calls and emails to your representative to explain the two-person crew issue are also very important.”
Hayden wanted to give special credit to Stacey Garton, the wife of BNSF conductor Glen Garton of TD Local 259 in St. Joseph, Mo. Her efforts and the grassroots support given by fellow members of the Facebook page Fight for Two Person Crews helped her to approach Neely. She then connected Hayden and BLET State Legislative Chairman Calvin Groose with Neely so that the bill could be finalized before introduction.
“It was not hard for Rep. Neely to understand the grave situation it not only puts the single employee in but also the general public,” Hayden said about the dangers of one-person freight operations. “He was actually not on my radar as someone to approach about carrying the bill for us. But this situation goes to show allies can come from the most unexpected places. It really is all about how an issue touches someone.”
A great show of support from union members and their family and friends in Missouri in contacting their state legislators will help to show the Show Me State that H.B. 2229 matters for the continued safety of both rail workers and for the public.
Members wanting to assist in the effort to get the word out about this important legislation and to have their voices heard can contact Hayden at email@example.com.
“We have the numbers to make this happen, we just need your help to accomplish it,” he said.
Virginia’s House of Delegates on Wednesday passed H.B. 440, a two-person freight crew bill, by a 61-37 vote, with one delegate abstaining.
The bill now moves on to the state’s Senate.
“We’ve hit third base,” SMART TD Virginia Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs said. “It’s going to take some work from all of us, but we’re getting to work to bring it home to the Governor’s desk.”
Supporters of the Virginia two-person crew bill, H.B. 440, fill the House chamber on Jan. 22 to show their support for the legislation in this photo courtesy of Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs.
There was a strong show of support in the state Capitol for the bill by members from both the Sheet Metal and TD sides. After the passage was announced by House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, cheers from supporters filled the chamber.
H.B. 440 levies fines on freight carriers who do not operate with two crew members in the cab with exceptions for hostler or yard service.
Hobbs said the effort that got the bill through the House will need to be sustained and more support from members will be needed as work continues in the state Senate.
“We had a great turnout and filled the chamber,” Hobbs said. “There has been great effort from members and retirees who have been reaching out to officials and letting them know about how two people are needed on the crew. If we keep this up, the bill will pass.”
Hobbs said that he will keep members informed as the bill progresses and thanks everyone for their strong support. Contact Hobbs at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details on how to show your support.
H.B. 440, which was introduced by Delegate Steve E. Heretick of District 79, passed the House’s Committee on Rail and Commerce Jan. 16 by a 13-8 vote.
Virginia’s full House of Delegates soon will be considering H.B. 440, a two-person freight crew bill, after it passed the body’s Committee on Commerce and Labor Jan. 16 by a 13-8 vote.
“This is a big win — a huge win today,” said Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs, who said that prior attempts at passage never made it past the subcommittee level. “Now, we’ve got to get ready for the House hearing.”
Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs delivers testimony in favor of H.B. 440, a two-person freight crew bill, on Thursday, Jan. 16. The bill passed through committee by a 13-8 vote.
Hobbs said a number of members and Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity were there at the hearing to show that they backed the bill, which establishes fines for freight carriers who do not operate with two crew members in the cab with exceptions for hostler or yard service.
That support will need to be sustained and more support from members will be needed as the effort continues to get passage of the bill, which was introduced by Delegate Steve E. Heretick of District 79.
“As Jared said, we need to fill the mezzanine when the bill comes up in the House,” Hobbs said. “They need to see our members.”
Hobbs said that the result in Virginia shows that elections do have consequences — control of the House changed in November, and candidates who are more supportive of rail safety efforts were elected to office.
Hobbs said that he will keep members informed as the bill progresses and thanks everyone for their strong support.
“We’re rounding second and heading to third base,” he said.
Contact Hobbs at email@example.com for more details on how to show your support.
Video of testimony from the hearing appears below.
A two-person crew bill is headed to the Virginia House of Delegates’ Commerce and Labor Committee and SMART-TD members in the region are asked to come show their support for the legislation.
H.B. 440 is scheduled for a first hearing in the House Committee Room in the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 16, in the state Capitol Building, 1000 Bank St., in Richmond, Va. The time that the bill will be discussed is undetermined as the committee meeting begins a half-hour after the adjournment of the House of Delegates’ regular session that day.
The bill has been introduced by Delegate Steve E. Heretick of District 79 and establishes fines for freight carriers who do not operate with two crew members in the cab with exceptions for hostler or yard service.
“We’d never gotten it out of the subcommittee before,” Virginia State Legislative Director Ronnie Hobbs said. “Now it has gone straight to committee.”
A great show of support from union members in the state will help to show the legislators that this legislation matters for the safety of both rail workers and for the public.
“I’d love to fill the room with railroad folks,” Hobbs said.
For more details on how to meet and show support, contact Hobbs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WASHINGTON (June 26, 2019) — U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today introduced the Safe Freight Act, (S.1979) legislation that would promote rail safety by mandating at least two-person crews on all freight trains in the United States.
The bill is designed to correct the Federal Railroad Administration’s rollback in May of a proposed rule that would have established these necessary safety standards. The Safe Freight Act will specifically require that all freight trains have at least one certified conductor and one certified engineer on board, who can then work together to protect the safety of both the train and people living near the tracks. In 2013, there was a tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, where an unattended freight train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people, destroying much of the town and causing millions of dollars in environmental damage.
“The FRA abdicated its responsibility as our nation’s rail safety agency when it withdrew the proposed two-person crew rule,” said Sen. Markey. “A series of tragic accidents have resulted in recent years from unattended and understaffed trains, making clear that we need enough crew on board to protect both property and the public. I am proud to lead the introduction of the Safe Freight Act with Senator Wyden to address this critical safety concern.”
“The decision by the FRA to abandon its planned two-person crew rule makes no sense, especially in light of recent rail accidents,” said Sen. Wyden. “This is a matter of safety and security for rail crew and the public and experts agree. It’s now up to Congress to step in and require freight trains have the staffing required to keep folks safe.”
Other senators co-sponsoring the Safe Freight Act are Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
“SMART Transportation Division has been working tirelessly to promote safety in the railroad industry,” said SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich. “There is no doubt that the safest rail operation is a two-person crew operation. After several major train derailments, we must send a clear message to our lawmakers and the general public that multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities. I would like to thank Senator Markey for his leadership on this critical issue as we continue improve safety on our nation’s railroads for both our members and the general public.”
“The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has led the fight for railroad safety for over 156 years,” said BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce. “Two-person crews make for safer, more efficient train operations, and two-person crews play a key role in safeguarding our Nation’s communities when a serious accident occurs. I congratulate Senator Markey for stepping up to lead the fight for a safer railroad industry and a safer America.”
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signs A.B. 337, a law that sets a minimum two-person crew and establishes hefty fines for freight carriers who violate the law.
The advocacy and hard work of SMART Transportation Division members and retirees, the Nevada State Legislative Board and a coalition that included Sheet Metal brothers and sisters, other rail unions and safety-conscious members of the public has paid off.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed A.B. 337 on May 15. Two-person crews are now required on Class I and II freight trains being operated in the state or the carriers will face steep fines.
The bill’s signing caps a massive effort by SMART TD members that spanned years in the face of carrier opposition.
“This law didn’t pass by accident. It was the hard work of Jason Doering, our Nevada state legislative director, and others that made it happen,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said. “We all owe Jason and others who worked on this our thanks for keeping train operations safe in Nevada, for not just those who operate trains but for the public as well.”
Doering and his board assembled a group of dedicated advocates who helped to spread the important message about how crew size is, first and foremost, about keeping communities safe.
“Many people helped to get the word out about the public safety ramifications of this legislation,” Doering said. “Those concerted efforts paid off, and now we’ve ensured that the state’s railways stay safe with two crew members in each freight train’s cab.”
The legislation was sponsored in the State Assembly by Susie Martinez, a Teamster who, Doering said, “treated him like family” and whose staffer, Carlos Hernandez, assisted in the early stages of getting the bill passed.
Additional backers included Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, also a primary sponsor of the legislation, as well as Assemblywoman Shea Backus, who testified before the state Senate and expressed strong support during an Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee hearing, and Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, another co-sponsor whose father was a United Transportation Union member.
“Really — all of the Nevada Assembly and Senate Democrats, as well as the governor, receive my thanks for their understanding of the important protection to public safety that this law provides,” Doering said. “There is too much risk involved in transporting hazardous materials and goods across our country and through our communities to have a single crewmember on trains that are a mile long or even longer.”
The law establishes fines of $5,000 for a first offense, $10,000 for a second offense within three years and $25,000 for a third and all other offenses for Class I and II carriers that operate freight locomotives without at least two people in the cab. Hostling and helper services are not covered by the law.
Doering and his board were stung by the 2017 veto by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, of S.B. 427, a prior try at two-person crew legislation that had passed both houses of the Nevada state Legislature.
But a change in leadership brought a new opportunity with Sisolak’s election last year.
“No doubt we were disappointed in 2017, but this is a prime example of how elections matter,” Doering said. “We cracked open the door with our previous effort and laid the groundwork. With that change in leadership in the state Capitol, it was opened even wider.”
The Nevada State Legislative Board especially wanted to thank members from SMART’s Sheet Metal Local 88 out of Las Vegas, who helped to amplify the message.
“They were an extraordinary help!” Doering said. “Jeff Proffitt and Alfonso Lopez — we couldn’t have moved anything without their support. Sheet Metal put rail labor on the map in Nevada.”
Also advocating for the legislation was Fran Almaraz, who helped set up meetings and facilitated a relationship with legislative leadership, Doering said.
Assisting the cause as well were TD Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, who provided guidance after succeeding earlier this year in getting two-person legislation made into law in his state, Dean Mitchell, who helped in researching and targeting the message and the TD Public Relations Department, which helped to compose an op-ed published by the Nevada Independent and put together print material to get the word out about the legislation.
And, as he did with S.B. 427, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen’s Nevada State Legislative Board Chairman Matt Parker mobilized BLET members to advocate loudly in favor of the legislation.
“It truly was a team effort,” Doering said.
A.B. 337 was approved April 23 by the State Assembly by a 29-12 vote and in the state Senate on May 7 by 13-8 margin. Both votes were party line with Democrats voting in favor of the legislation.
Nevada now joins Arizona, California, Colorado, West Virginia and Wisconsin as states that have legislation requiring two people to operate freight trains.
“This successful passage in Nevada proves that our persistence pays off,” Risch said. ”Concerning two-person crews, the message of public safety did not change from two years ago and will not change going forward. It’s that simple. Two crew members are vital to ensuring that these trains are operated safely and that our communities are secure.
“Legislators in Nevada knew this before, and they know it now. As a result of the 2018 election, the leadership in the governor’s office changed and now this safety-focused, common-sense bill has been made law.”
Two-person freight crew safety legislation is one step closer to becoming law in Colorado with the state Senate’s passage of House Bill 1034 (H.B. 1034).
After its 19-15 passage on Feb. 25 in the Senate, the bill is on the desk of Democratic Gov. Jared Polis for consideration after a successful March 4 reconciliation vote in the House.
Polis has three options — signing the bill to make it state law, vetoing the bill or not signing the bill. If he chooses not to sign the bill, it will then become law after 10 days of inaction.
“We need to let the governor know that this is a grassroots effort with the safety of the public in mind,” Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith said.
Through the process, members in the state, as well as their families and friends, have been instrumental in supporting the efforts of the Colorado State Legislative Board to get the two-person crew bill through the Legislature and onto the governor’s desk.
Help is needed one more time for that final push. Members, their families and friends in Colorado all can voice their support for the legislation by following the link below:
Smith said that he is optimistic that Polis, who as a U.S. representative was a co-sponsor of the 2017 Safe Freight Act legislation, will support the bill once he hears from SMART members, their families and anyone else in the state who is concerned about rail safety.
H.B. 1034 first passed the Colorado House on Feb. 5 by a 39-23 vote.