A boy’s life was saved Aug. 14 and a potential tragedy averted thanks to the fast-thinking actions of Mike Bobrosky III, a member of Local 1006 (Brownsville, Pa).
That morning, Reese Pearson, 9, who has autism, ran off from his home in Morgan Township, Pa. His mom immediately called police, according to reports from KDKA TV-2 in Pittsburgh, and authorities began to search the remote wooded area for Reese.
Down the hill from the home traveling the Norfolk Southern line toward Waynesburg, Pa., conductor Bobrosky and his engineer were traveling southbound. As their train approached Wayne Tunnel nears Waynesburg, Bobrosky said he saw something fouling the track ahead.
“We were coming around a bend. He was in the middle of the gauge inside the tunnel, and we dumped it into emergency,” he said.
The train stopped inside the tunnel, just short of hitting the boy.
“It was inches.”
After the train stopped, they alerted authorities, who had been searching for Reese for quite some time, and coaxed him aboard the locomotive. The hungry boy received a ride to the next crossing from the crew, where authorities were waiting and reunited Reese with his worried mother.
The alertness of Bobrosky and the action he and his engineer took saved a life that day and serves as yet another example of how having two people in the cabs of freight trains makes a difference in safety, contrary to carriers’ arguments.
“It was a right-hand curve – I saw him way before the engineer,” Bobrosky said. “If it was a one-man crew, I don’t know if the train would have stopped.
H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that contains provisions important to members of all crafts in the SMART Transportation Division and to sheet metal workers, passed through the U.S. House of Representatives by a 233-188 vote on July 1.
requirements for carriers to meet CDC guidelines and to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to transportation workers
“This is an unprecedented step ahead for many of our union’s major issues through the legislative process,” SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson said. “Our concerns were heard and addressed by the writers of this bill — safety for workers and communities alike in the bus and transit operator safety measures and in the crew-size provision, funding for Amtrak, and a number of other provisions intended to rebuild and transform the nation’s roads and rails.
“Federal agencies and big-pocketed lobbyists have tried to obstruct the essential protections that this bill provides to our members and to the people who work on, live near and use our nation’s transportation network. These representatives all had the foresight and initiative to move them forward.”
In the column, Jefferies also argued that legislators were “putting their collective thumbs on the scale” regarding railroad safety in regulating the crew-size safety issue.
The INVEST in America component of the Moving Forward Act was shepherded by House T&I Chairperson Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, through the committee June 18. He commented on July 1 after the bill’s passage:
“Passage of this bold, forward-thinking infrastructure bill is proof that finally, there is a majority of us in Congress who won’t accept the status quo and instead are willing to fight for a new vision that invests in our communities, addresses the climate crisis, and creates better opportunities for all. And we get there by putting millions of people to work in jobs that cannot be exported, while harnessing American-made materials, ingenuity, and innovation,” he said. “With the Moving Forward Act, we make it clear that our infrastructure does not have to be a product of the past, with crumbling roads and bridges, unreliable transit and rail networks, inequitable outcomes, and little regard to our changing climate and our changing economy. I challenge my Senate colleagues to join the House in thinking big and being bold on long-overdue investments not only in our infrastructure, but also in the communities and the people we all represent.”
Leaders in the SMART-TD National Legislative Department thanked DeFazio and the bipartisan group of Democrats and a trio of Republicans who supported H.R. 2.
“As if we need any additional evidence that elections matter, this result shows that the 2018 change of party control in the House made a difference,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “We appreciate those legislators who supported this legislation in its journey through the House. There is more work to be done and a path to be cleared for this legislation, and our membership is more than willing to put in the time to make legislators understand why the bill provisions are necessary.”
Sometimes it takes something major to happen for people to sit up and take notice. A wake-up call, if you will.
From the standpoint of our national contract negotiations, our union got another wake-up call even before our first session that is scheduled for the last week in February.
On February 11th, a U.S district judge, who was appointed by President Donald Trump last year, ruled against our union in a lawsuit over crew-consist moratoriums. We’re now appealing that decision.
The court ignored the Railway Labor Act strictures with regard to the moratorium provisions which have been upheld for decades. We are being pushed down the tracks where the carriers want this to go.
This fight is not over, and we have another that is about to begin.
There’s a lyric that Anne Feeney wrote that gets at the heart of this matter and that unions have embraced: “United, we bargain. Divided, we beg.”
We now have a coalition of 10 rail unions about to begin negotiating together in this upcoming round of bargaining. I have been in close contact with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) President Dennis Pierce throughout as carriers have tried to attack two-person crews.
Our two unions are linked in the courts. We’re linked in the halls of Congress. We’re linked in the locomotive cabs. We are now linked at the bargaining table.
Our attorneys are working together on behalf of both our organizations to fight the ongoing court cases as carriers try to manipulate the system with their deep pockets by attempting to get long-standing precedents and legislation overturned.
Legislative representatives from both our organizations are meeting with members of Congress and state legislatures to get the word on for two-person crew laws. The carriers, however, are using every means to fight to try to get two-person crew laws of seven states thrown out, which we have opposed.
Members from both organizations are sitting in cabs of freight trains staying alert and keeping one another safe through each and every shift, ready at a moment’s notice to respond when things go wrong. We need to carry this effort on in crew consist.
BLET President Pierce recently stated in a message to his union:
“I share this information to make it clear to BLET’s membership that our proud Union stands with our Brothers and Sisters in SMART’s Transportation Division in the fight to preserve two-person crews,” Pierce wrote. “Be it on the regulatory front, the legislative front, in court or at the bargaining table, BLET is working with SMART-TD to protect the interests of all operating employees.”
I, as President of the SMART-TD, want to make it clear to our union that we stand united with the BLET.
Any attempt to drive a wedge between our organizations in order to get officers and members alike to disregard the goal at hand — preserving two on the operating crew — plays into the carriers’ hands. It gets them closer to what they want: Fewer workers, more money in their pockets, a less-safe (cheaper) work environment and weakens all of rail labor. Two unions with members and with leadership going in opposite directions would make it easier for carriers to accomplish their goal of eradicating jobs in favor of their idea of “innovation.”
I also agree with President Pierce when he stated:
“The bottom line is this: In order to preserve two-person crews, each Union must protect and preserve its member of those crews. With only a few exceptions, BLET cannot bargain nationally for Conductors. The same is true in reverse; with only a few exceptions, SMART-TD cannot bargain nationally for Engineers,” he wrote. “For these reasons, and regardless of the fearmongering going on, BLET cannot ‘sell’ Conductor positions to benefit Engineers in national negotiations, and the same in true in reverse for SMART-TD. Again, each Union must protect its half of our two-person crews for all operating employees to prevail.”
Brothers and sisters, this is an uneasy time for every member of every labor organization involved in these negotiations as the carriers continue to cut personnel. The operating craft unions have the buzzsaw of technological threats from the carriers aimed straight down the middle of the locomotive cab. Don’t be persuaded by the fearmongering that attempts to divide us.
You are going to hear rumors out there. You are going to hear speculation. You are going to have people beating their chests and criticizing decisions made years ago by prior leaders for putting us in what could be a critical — maybe the most critical — moment in rail labor’s history with the in-cab role of the conductor in the balance. Ignore all of that noise. We are moving forward, not backward!
This is not the time for anyone to give in to anxiety or paranoia or “what-if” scenarios. When all SMART-TD members put our names on the dotted line to pledge for membership to this organization, we pledged to fight for each other in solidarity. When elected president of the Transportation Division last August, I took an oath to act in solidarity for the best interest for the organization and for all whom we represent. When I signed our organization on as a member of the 10-union Coordinated Bargaining Coalition, I pledged to bargain in solidarity with those other rail labor organizations in national talks.
All of us need to be focused on the situation that lies ahead and the decisions to be made for the future of rail labor and the crews who operate freight trains. We need to reinforce our lines of defense and prepare to go on the offense by reaching out to the public and to the media. Instead of wondering “what’s the union doing for us?” it’s time to get to the local union meetings and get involved. It’s time for the spouses to join the SMART-TD Auxiliary and get involved. It’s time to up your SMART-TD PAC contributions, then get with your state and U.S. legislators, so they hear your voice this election year. It’s time to get involved in the SMART Army. It’s time to stand strong!
Brothers and sisters, BLET President Pierce and I are united. We will work in solidarity, together, to keep two on the crew as we bargain. We will work together to keep you informed. We know this issue is too important to our memberships and for the public’s and our safety not to.
President — Transportation Division
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.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in a 41-page report released Jan. 13th by its Office of Research, Development and Technology said what railroaders already know.
Researchers at the Volpe Center over a period of years performed cognitive task analyses (CTAs) that examined the mental demands placed on rail workers, including operating personnel, as they engaged with technology and performed their jobs.
SMART Transportation Division President Jeremy R. Ferguson
“Results from the locomotive engineer and conductor CTAs indicate that train crews, a primary example of an elemental team in railroad operations, exhibit characteristics of high performing teams that are found across industries,” the report said. “These include mutual performance monitoring — to catch and correct errors — and active support of each other’s activities.”
“These teamwork activities went beyond the requirements of formal operating rules and were not explicitly covered in training,” the report states.
The Volpe Center has even received accolades from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao herself, who praised its work at enabling safety and innovation for the nation in regard to transportation and infrastructure during the center’s groundbreaking in Oct. 2019.
“It has worked to reduce rail-grade crossing accidents, improve vehicle safety, and better manage the airspace…. The Volpe Center continues to provide important contributions to our national transportation system. Especially now, when we have entered a historic period of transportation innovation that promises to boost economic growth and improve quality of life. These innovations are occurring in all modes of transportation, including roads, rail, maritime, and aerospace…. All these innovations are exciting, but they can be disruptive. This is where Volpe’s contribution plays an important role. Volpe’s data and analysis provides trustworthy information that helps us distinguish between ‘High’ and ‘Hype’ performance innovations. Volpe’s data helps build confidence among stakeholders, including the public whose acceptance is critical to realizing the potential of ground-breaking innovations.”
So, when a facility respected for its research of transportation issues provides evidence in an FRA report saying that cooperative efforts and communications exhibited by the two operating crew members help keep railroad operations safe beyond the baseline training that every rail worker receives upon hire, it blows a hole in the argument that “rail safety data does not support a train crew staffing rulemaking” from FRA Administrator Ron Batory last May in withdrawing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on two-person crews.
There’s the old saying that “two heads are better than one.” Railroaders live this life, especially when coping with the unimaginable fatigue being an over-the-road crewmember brings. The ability of two people to work together and their collected experience helps them to react to unexpected and potentially dangerous situations as they happen, preserving the safety of the crew and others while crossing the country.
Earlier research from the Volpe Center released in December 2013 also proves this:
“The locomotive engineer and conductor function as a joint cognitive system, meaning that conductors and locomotive engineers jointly contribute to the set of cognitive activities required to operate the train safely and efficiently.”
“While each crew member has a distinct set of formal responsibilities, in practice they operate as an integrated team, contributing knowledge and backing each other up as necessary.”
“When operating on the mainline conductors not only serve as a ‘second pair of eyes’, alerting the locomotive engineer to upcoming signals and potential hazards (e.g., activity at grade crossings; people working on or around the track), they also contribute knowledge and decision-making judgment.”
“Conductors also serve an important, redundant check and backup role, reminding locomotive engineers of upcoming work zones and speed restrictions.”
“If necessary, they will also handle unanticipated situations and activate the emergency brake, in cases where the locomotive engineer has not responded quickly enough.”
“Conductors have developed a variety of skills and strategies that enable them to handle non-routine situations safely and efficiently.”
It truly is puzzling. Both AAR and Batory’s agency tout safe operations as a primary goal on their websites, and they praise the efforts of railroad workers in keeping operations safe in public testimony. Then they simultaneously argue in court and in state legislatures against keeping those personnel working on America’s railroads because maintaining two on the crew might crack some fragile egg of future technological advancement.
By the way, Volpe research says Positive Train Control (PTC), will not provide all of the cognitive support functions the conductor currently provides to the locomotive engineer.
Technology does not need to be approached with the final goal of slashing a workforce to save costs and thus fill the pockets of those at the top in the form of higher share prices and lower operating ratios. The FRA Office of Research, Development and Technology report even suggests that new technologies can be layered atop current personnel configurations that carriers operate under, and that approach would make sense from a workers’ safety and public safety standpoint.
Technological advances will not deliver first aid to the person whose vehicle has been struck by a train and is trapped and injured after an accident at a rail crossing. Technological advances will not perform CPR on the co-worker in the cab who suffers a medical event while the train is being operated. Technological advances will not physically assist a co-worker in evacuating when a locomotive has derailed into a river.
That people have survived the above scenarios that have occurred on the nation’s railroads are examples of safe operation as well. Unexpected events and calamities do happen. But definitive data aren’t kept by the FRA or the railroads about accidents that are prevented by worker intervention or assistance that is provided. How can you really track what might have happened if the incident is avoided?
What we can look at what is in the here and now. The level of worker and public safety that the railroad industry has achieved is a result of the collaboration of engineers and conductors and all other employees out in the field. Yes, there are still fatalities — our union lost three members in 2019 — and safety performance can still be improved by adding technology without a further reduction of on-train personnel.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 22, 2019) – Two large railroad unions in the United States have pledged their joint support for the Safe Freight Act legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Don Young (R – Alaska).
The Safe Freight Act (H.R. 1748) requires that two certified crew members operate freight trains on U.S. rails and has the backing of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).
“SMART Transportation Division has been working tirelessly to promote safety in the railroad industry, and there is no doubt that the only safe rail operation is one that includes at a minimum a certified conductor and a certified locomotive engineer,” SMART TD President John Previsich said. “A clear message must be sent to our lawmakers and to the general public that multi-person crews are essential to ensuring the safest rail operations possible in their communities. I would like to thank Congressman Young for his leadership on this critical issue as we continue to improve safety on our nation’s railroads for both our members and for the general public.”
“This is necessary safety legislation to protect railroad workers and the American public,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “While the railroad industry talks of one-person train crews and even autonomous trains, the 2013 tragedy of Lac-Megantic is justification enough that we need two sets of eyes and ears in the locomotive cab.”
Recent well-publicized rail accidents in other nations involving trains with one or no crew members show how smaller crews increase the risk of catastrophe in railroad accidents.
In September 2018, an autonomous runaway TasRail train reached speeds of 31 mph before it derailed in the Tasmanian city of Devonport, injuring two people. The train had become unresponsive to remote control commands, including the train’s emergency stop feature.
On Nov. 5, 2018, a runaway BHP ore train of 268 cars with no one aboard reached speeds of 62 mph before it was forcibly derailed in Western Australia. The approximately 1.9-mile-long train loaded with iron ore was operated by a lone crew member who had left the locomotive to inspect an issue with the brakes when the train began moving.
And finally, an oil train with a single-person crew in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, rolled into the center of the town July 6, 2013, after its brakes disengaged. The resulting derailment touched off an inferno that killed 47 people and destroyed the town center.
In the United States, labor unions and others concerned with safety on the United States’ 140,000 miles of rail are seeking to prevent such events from happening. Legislation setting crew size at two people aboard has passed in five states. A two-person crew bill backed by both the SMART TD and BLET unions (H.B. 1034) was signed into law March 21 by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
“Automation of cars, buses, aircraft and trucks are being addressed by legislation and in regulation by the federal government and many states. It’s time the federal government provided some oversight on railroads,” SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch said. “Congressman Young’s bill is a first step, and we thank him for his leadership on this. The safety of the public and our members depend on this.”
“Safety is non-negotiable, and this legislation is about railroad safety,” BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman said. “The members of the BLET and SMART TD are highly trained professionals who have dedicated their lives to performing their jobs as safely as possible, and we thank Congressman Young for his ongoing support and for introducing H.R. 1748.”
This national legislation introduced by Young, a longtime advocate of railroad safety, is a common-sense step toward making our nation’s rails safer for workers and the public alike. It has the full endorsement of both unions.
H.R. 1748 has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
### 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 different crafts, including as bus and commuter rail operators, in the transportation industry.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 57,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
S.2360 is a companion bill to H.R. 233, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska). As of its introduction, the Safe Freight Act has five cosponsors in the Senate. H.R. 233 has 74 bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives.
For several years, SMART Transportation Division has asserted that a minimum two-person train crew is a vital component of rail safety and sound public policy. In 2013, Transport Canada established a government mandate requiring two-person crews in response to the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster when a freight train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people after its single crew member left the train unattended. The United States has yet to follow suit with a federally promulgated rule or law, and only five states have implemented a two-person train crew requirement.
“We are very pleased that Sen. Heitkamp has introduced this vital rail safety legislation, said John Previsich, President of the SMART Transportation Division. “For the same reasons that we have a pilot and copilot on commercial jetliners, two qualified crewmembers are essential to the safe operation of trains through our nation’s communities. Bottom line economics should never be permitted to stand in the way of employee and public safety. The only safe way to operate a train is with two crewmembers on board the locomotive.”
Heitkamp has long supported requiring two-person train crews and is a key advocate for rail safety. On July 15, 2016, Heitkamp testified in favor of the pending two-person crew federal rule before the Federal Railroad Administration. The derailment of a crude oil train near Casselton, N.D., had led Heitkamp to launch an initiative to address emerging challenges in the wake of the state’s energy boom.
“When a disaster like the Casselton derailment sends shockwaves through our communities, we must do everything we can to prevent accidents and improve our ability to respond in the future,” Heitkamp said. “After the Casselton derailment, it was clear that having two crewmembers on board the train made all the difference to prevent the fire from escalating and threatening those living nearby. My legislation is a commonsense way to make our communities strong and safe while supporting an industry that is vital to North Dakota jobs and prosperity.”
S.2360 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for further consideration.
Joining Heitkamp as cosponsors are U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The SMART Transportation Division, formerly the United Transportation Union, is the largest rail union in the United States representing members in all operating crafts, including engineers, conductors, trainmen, switchmen and yardmasters.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The first step in the process to mandate a minimum of two-person freight train crews in Ohio (H.B. 107) occurred Wednesday, March 29, when the Ohio Transportation & Safety Committee held its first hearing on the bill.
To make H.B. 107 a law in Ohio, we need TD union members, friends, family and anyone who cares about the safety of workers and the safety of our communities to click the link below to send a message to the members of the Ohio Transportation & Safety Committee, urging them to support this vital safety measure.
TAKE ACTION! Take a minute and click here to send a message in support of Ohio H.B. 107. Please share with friends and family to do the same!
TAKE ACTION IN YOUR STATE! Email us news of two-person crew or right-to-work (IS WRONG) legislation in your state to News_TD@smart-union.org.
TAKE ACTION by calling members of the Ohio Transportation & Safety Committee (phone numbers listed below). Ask your Representatives to support H.B. 107 and thank the sponsors and co-sponsors for their support.
Ohio House Transportation & Safety Committee members (in order by district):
According to a CNN report, a Long Island, N.Y. commuter train heading eastbound collided with part of a work train that was blocking the track. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials are investigating the crash. Read the full story here.
Along with Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), leaders and members of transportation unions, including TTD and SMART TD, provided compelling testimony to the FRA today, in support of a federal rule that would mandate a minimum of two crew members for all freight train operations. Read the complete TTD press release here
Amarillo.com reported that BNSF freight trains collided head-on this morning in the town of Panhandle, Texas, near Amarillo, creating a massive fireball and explosion that prompted a swift evacuation of Panhandle residents. Injuries and missing persons have been reported; at this time, no details have surfaced regarding those missing, or the number or severity of injuries. Read the complete story here.Photo courtesy of ABC News.