Another state is making a two-person freight crew the law of their land.
On July 27, the Kansas State Department of Transportation proposed a regulation that requires railroads that operate in the state to maintain a two-person crew in the lead locomotive.
“Kansas now joins a growing list of states that believe federal inaction on this issue is too great of importance to public safety and our members’ safety,” SMART Transportation Division Kansas State Legislative Director Ty Dragoo said in an email to TD members in his state. “The work we have done, the years of relationship building, the local, county and regional meetings where we have presented our case, and above all else, your efforts in your communities have finally paid off.
“Today is the proudest day of my career and, indeed, my tenure as a member of this great union.”
“Kansas has faced issues ranging from crew member fatigue to derailments which pose a threat to our safety and security – but by maintaining the current practice of requiring a two-person crew we can ensure the health and safety of Kansas workers,” she said. “This proposed regulation is a commonsense, necessary measure to protect our state’s railroad crew members and keep every community along the tracks safe.”
Exceptions to the Kansas regulation include switching operations, brake testing, safety inspections, or while performing setouts in conjunction with road service.
“The benefits of the proposed rule and regulation is railroad and community safety, including the role two-person crews can play in helping to prevent potential accidents or derailments and in emergency situations,” the state said in its release.
The persistence of Dragoo and the state’s legislative board paid off after more than a decade of work. Dragoo previously helped to persuade legislators to introduce a two-person crew bill, H.B. 6057, back in 2016, but it died while in committee.
“All the outreach by Brother Dragoo, the Kansas SLB, SMART-TD members and other rail workers and concerned parties was instrumental in proving the point that a safe operation is one with a certified conductor and a certified engineer working in tandem with technology playing a supporting, not a supplanting, part,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “This realization is one that transcends partisanship and ensures the continued safety of Kansas residents and rail workers.”
At the federal level, a number of states and rail labor unions continue to engage in a lawsuit against the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit. The federal agency, led by Donald Trump appointee Ron Batory, has attempted to prevent states from passing laws mandating a minimum train crew size.
There are more instances out there that have not been told. As the carriers continue to make their argument that the conductor role in the cab is superfluous and replaceable by technology, we need to prove to the public that this is simply not true.
If you are a railroader and you have a story to tell when having two on the crew made a difference, we would like you to share it with us.
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.”
The efforts of a two-person crew in East St. Paul, Minn., helped to save a wandering five-year-old girl and reunite her with her family.
Near midnight Saturday, Feb. 1, SMART Transportation Division Local 1293 member Jarrod Campbell and BLET member Angela Knutson were operating a Union Pacific train through East St. Paul when they spotted something unusual alongside the tracks.
The shape looked strange to them, so Knutson stopped the train, and Campbell grabbed his lantern and left the cab to investigate.
Walking back, he discovered a five-year-old girl wearing a light jacket. She wasn’t wearing a hat or mittens and her sneakers were filled with snow.
“I introduced myself to her,” Campbell said. “She said that her name was Zoey and that she was cold and wanted her mom.”
The conductor out of the Altoona, Wis., local picked Zoey up and asked her if she would want to come into the locomotive where it was warm so she could meet Angela.
“She gave me a big hug and said thank you,” Campbell said.
Campbell carried Zoey through the snow and they went into the cab. There Campbell and Knutson comforted her by wrapping her in Campbell’s coat, giving her a spare pair of Knutson’s socks, using hand warmers to stave off the early signs of hypothermia and keeping her calm until EMS crews could arrive.
She had been reported missing to police about 45 minutes to a half-hour before the crew found her, Campbell later learned. The temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and he said there was still eight to 10 inches of snow on the ground there.
The combined efforts of both crewmembers saved the girl from a possibly life-threatening situation at a time when rail carriers are looking to cut the conductor position from the cab in favor of technologies such as Positive Train Control. The carriers and Federal Railroad Administration argue that no data exists proving that a two-person crew is any safer than a single-person crew.
Zoey’s family would probably differ on that.
“It’s just miraculous that we were able to see her or find her,” Campbell said. “It sure wasn’t Positive Train Control that stopped and saved this girl.”
SMART Transportation Division Alternate Vice President J. Scott Chelette, general chairperson of GO 927, was featured in a television news report about the rail industry’s intention to eliminate the conductor from the cab of freight trains in the wake of Class I freight carriers implementing Positive Train Control (PTC).
Chelette was featured alongside West, Texas, Police Chief Darryl Barton on the report, broadcast Jan. 30 on KWTX-TV in Waco, Texas.
“The industry wants to take it a step further and thinks that because they have Positive Train Control that we don’t need a conductor on the locomotive anymore. That’s not the case,” Chelette said. “It’s just a failsafe. It’s just like your vehicle having an alert system.”
In May, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) withdrew its proposed rulemaking to require two-person crews on freight trains. The agency then went further and stated that all state laws concerning the subject were preempted by the ruling.
In response, SMART TD President John Previsich testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials in June at a hearing to address the FRA’s decision. In his statement, Previsich described the decision by the FRA as an abdication of its safety oversight duties.
In July, SMART Transportation Division further responded to the FRA by filing a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit Court, asking the court to overturn FRA’s ruling. According to Freightwaves.com, the states of Nevada, Illinois, Washington and California have joined in the fight for two-person crews as well. Nevada, Washington and the California Public Utilities Commission filed petitions with the Ninth Circuit court asking them to review FRA’s decision. Illinois joined the fight for two-person crews August 9, when the state’s governor signed a two-person crew bill into law.
At the SMART TD Regional Meeting in July in San Diego, President Previsich reiterated to members that the union would not take this decision lying down.
“There is going to be a big push coming. We are going to reach out to you when the proper time comes and ask for your assistance,” Previsich told attendees.
Illinois Gov. Pritzker (left) standing shoulder-to-shoulder with SMART TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy (right).
On Friday, August 9, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed Senate Bill 24 – the state’s two-person crew bill – into law.
“I want to thank and commend Governor Pritzker for honoring the commitment he made as a candidate to sign legislation requiring a crew of at least two individuals on a freight train, and that’s just what he did in signing Senate Bill 24 into law,” Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy said.
Illinois State Sen. Terry Link, who sponsored the bill, had this to say about the bill signing in a press release: “With federal bureaucrats failing to act to protect public safety, it is clear states must act on their own. This is simply a matter of protecting the general public. Two-person crews can react more efficiently to mechanical failures or equipment malfunctions and can potentially save lives in a serious situation.”
“With the FRA abdicating its safety oversight duties and choosing to protect railroad profits over public safety, it’s now more important than ever for states to take over that role to protect its citizens from corporate greed,” said Guy. “At a time when freight trains are increasingly longer and carrying the most hazardous of chemicals through our communities, common sense tells us that response time to critical incidents involving trains is surely enhanced when a safe and adequate train crew size of at least two individuals are deployed, which is already the industry norm today and should be well into the future.
“On behalf of our Illinois SMART TD members, I say thank you, Governor, for seeing through the opposition’s tired arguments and FRA’s unprecedented submission that flies in the face of public safety. Your signature on S.B. 24 sends a clear message that Illinois, the rail hub of the nation, is not ready to jeopardize its citizens’ safety while railroads continue their pursuit of the almighty dollar,” Guy said.
SMART TD’s Ohio State Legislative Board has given an update on H.B. 186 — a comprehensive rail safety bill that addresses two-person crews, safe walkways, rail yard lighting and blocked crossings — that was introduced to the Ohio House Transportation Committee on June 18.
Ohio State Legislative Director Stu Gardner reports that the bill will be held over from the summer session to this fall where it will be given priority. Although the bill is static for now, Gardner asks Ohio members to offer proponent testimony as to why you believe the bill should be approved by the committee in preparation for this fall.
“Your testimony is what is needed to convince these committee members that this bill is what we have said all along it is – a common-sense approach to railroad safety,” Gardner said in an email to Ohio members.
Gardner suggests members write up testimony on all four segments of the bill or just on a specific segment. The four segments of the bill are:
Two-person freight train crews;
Common-sense safe walkways within rail yards;
Common-sense illumination of rail yards;
Blocked crossings that obstruct and delay emergency vehicles
According to Gardner, there are two ways you can provide testimony to the committee. You may either do a written-only testimony or you may submit electronic written testimony prior to testifying before the committee at the next hearing. The House Transportation and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday mornings at 11 a.m. in House Hearing Room 114 in the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus unless otherwise notified. Below are instructions from Gardner for submitting your testimony in either fashion.
Instructions for those wishing to testify before the committee:
Prior to committee:
The House Transportation and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday mornings at 11 a.m. in House Hearing Room 114 in the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
The committee notice typically goes out on Friday afternoon. The notice will confirm that H.B. 186 is up for a hearing and when and where the committee will convene.
The Ohio SLB will work with the chairman’s office and our policy team to get as much of an advanced notice as possible
Testimony is to be electronically submitted to the chairman’s office by 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.
A witness slip (fillable PDF) is to be completed prior to the committee meeting and should also be submitted electronically to the chairman’s office.
Testimony and the witness slip can be submitted at the same time and there is no need to send multiple emails.
Materials may be submitted to Matthew Taylor in Chairman Doug Green’s Office at Taylor@ohiohouse.gov.
Day of committee:
When the committee notice is distributed, SLD Gardner will make sure to relay the information and will draw attention to any changes that have been made to the committee’s location and start time.
Folks may arrive any time before the committee hearing begins.
There is no need to check in with staff so long as testimony was submitted properly.
Attendees may take a seat in the audience.
As committee begins, the chairman will announce the hearing of bills. As testimony begins on H.B. 186, the chairman will call each individual up by the name submitted on the witness slip.
After testimony has been given, the individual may remain in the committee room for the duration of the hearing.
Instructions for those wishing to submit written-only testimony:
Written-only testimony is for those who may not be able to attend the committee hearing to testify in person, or for those who may want to attend committee but do not wish to verbally testify.
Testimony is to be electronically submitted to the Chairman’s Office by 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, the day before the scheduled hearing.
The witness slip is to be completed prior to the committee hearing and should also be submitted electronically to the Chairman’s Office.
Testimony and the witness slip can be submitted at the same time, and there is no need to send multiple emails.
Materials may be submitted to Matthew Taylor in Chairman Doug Green’s Office at Taylor@ohiohouse.gov.
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.
Today the Trump administration did everything it could to stop all railroad crew safety issues.
In a Federal Register posting published at 4 p.m. today, the FRA formally withdrew the pending proposed rulemaking dating from 2016 that would have set a mandatory crew size on freight and passenger trains.
But the notice went much further than that. It announced that not only will FRA turn a blind eye to the unsafe practices of single-person or no-person trains, the agency claims that its notice also nullifies all state laws and regulations that establish minimum crew standards.
President Donald Trump, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and FRA Administrator Ron Batory have taken sides, and it’s with the railroads that want to eliminate operating crew members to the detriment of rail safety and to the detriment of the communities through which our members operate trains. We are considering legal action and other avenues to protect our members and the American public from the prospects of driverless trains.
The action today flies in the face of so-called conservative values and state’s rights. The federal government is refusing to protect the public and at the same time is prohibiting states from doing so by posting this federal notice.
This action undermines my faith in the FRA in being a fair and impartial overseer of safety in the railroad industry. Clearly, the railroad CEOs have their folks in power with President Trump and his administration. This action should put an end to any thoughts that this president and this administration is supportive of railroad workers.
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:
Two-person crew legislation endorsed by our union progressed ahead in two state legislatures late last week.
In Illinois, S.B. 24 was passed by the state Senate by a party-line 36-19 vote on Thursday. The state House of Representatives’ Rules Committee has received the bill, which establishes a minimum crew size of two individuals, and will consider it. The bill’s primary sponsor in the Illinois House is state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D – Dist. 113).
“Thanks to everyone who contacted their state senator, this couldn’t have been done without you,” The Illinois State Legislative Board said in a post on its Facebook page. “The General Assembly will now go on a two-week holiday break so please be ready to reach out to your State Representatives in their district offices.”
A two-person crew bill also has been passed in Maryland and awaits the action of Gov. Larry Hogan.
Nationally, the Safe Freight Act two-person crew bill introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 1748) by U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska continues to gain sponsors through the vocal support of SMART Transportation Division members and retirees alike, the national legislative office in Washington reports.
National Legislative Director John Risch said that more than 1,500 messages from members and retirees have been sent to members of the House in support of the Safe Freight Act and the bill has been gaining co-sponsors.
“Hearing from their voters goes a long way to opening the door to our message in the halls of Congress,” Risch said. “This is a team effort, so keep up the emails and phone calls.”