The Surface Transportation Board (STB) chairwoman has asked Norfolk Southern’s CEO to keep the board apprised as the carrier begins to add elements of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) to its operations, Trains Magazine reports.
The requirement of updates from NS mirrors the approach STB has taken in handling another Class I that is trying out PSR.
Union Pacific (UP) announced in early autumn that it also had begun adopting aspects of PSR as part of its “Unified Plan 2020” initiative. PSR is a strategy by the late CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison that he implemented at both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific and requires cargo to be ready when rail cars arrive for loading or risk being left behind, among other aspects. Both Canadian carriers reported financial benefits after these implementations.
When Harrison moved to CSX in early 2017 and began adding PSR to that carrier’s operations, CSX received substantial criticism from shippers amid reports of service problems as the year progressed. This drew the attention of STB and resulted in a hearing before the STB to address the carrier’s difficulties.
To avoid a repeat of those problems encountered by CSX, a letter from the STB sent in September to UP sought weekly updates on the implementation.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report on the Oct. 4 collision of two Union Pacific (UP) trains in Granite Canyon, Wyo., that killed SMART Transportation Division Local 446 members Jason Vincent Martinez, 40, and Benjamin “Benji” George Brozovich, 39.
The report states that data retrieved from the event recorder of the train indicated that an emergency brake application failed to slow the train as it descended a grade west of Cheyenne before striking the rear of a stationary train.
“Normally, the locomotive would send a message to the end-of-train device to also apply the brakes with an emergency brake application,” NTSB said in the preliminary report. “According to the event recorder, the end-of-train device did not make an emergency application of the brakes. Investigators are researching the reason for the communication failure. After the engineer applied the emergency application, the train continued to accelerate until reaching 56 mph as the last recorded speed.”
Positive train control (PTC) was active at the time of the accident, NTSB said.
NTSB said further investigation will focus on components of the train’s air brake system, head-of-train and end-of-train radio-linked devices, train braking simulations and current railroad operating rules. Investigators will also determine if the railroad’s air brake and train handling instructions address monitoring air flow readings and recognizing the communication status with the end-of-train device, the report stated.
Three locomotives and 57 cars of the striking train derailed. Nine cars of the stationary train derailed.
The investigation into the collision is continuing, and a final report will be released by NTSB at a later date.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Oct. 30 ruled that flaws in Union Pacific’s approach to inspecting, maintaining and repairing defects on the Estherville Subdivision helped to cause a March 2017 derailment that resulted in multiple tank cars spilling undenatured ethanol in Graettinger, Iowa.
A rail near a transition onto a bridge broke, causing 20 tank cars to derail in the accident that happened at 12:50 a.m. local time March 10, 2017. Fourteen of the tank cars spilled 322,000 gallons of ethanol, causing a fire that burned for more than 36 hours. Three nearby homes were evacuated as a result of the accident, which caused an estimated $4 million in damage, including the destruction of 400 feet of track and a 152-foot railroad bridge.
NTSB investigators survey the March 2017 derailment of a Union Pacific train carrying undenatured ethanol in Graettinger, Iowa.
During the NTSB hearing, board member Jennifer Homendy said she made a review of a decade’s worth of accident data for UP and the numbers showed one thing in common.
“Every year, track defects are the chief cause of accidents with UP,” she said.
Along Estherville’s 79-mile stretch, Homendy said that 102 defects of “marginal” and “poor” crossties were identified over a two-year period from 2015-17.
After the carrier received the reports of rail or crosstie defects, chief accident inspector Michael Hiller said UP didn’t take enough steps to fix the problems prior to the accident.
“The inspectors were going out and they were doing their inspections, and they were reporting the conditions of the tie,” Hiller said. “In many cases – more than 100, as member Homendy pointed out – there were remediation efforts, and it’s clear based on our observations post-accident that the remediation efforts restored the track back to its minimum condition that it needed to sustain traffic.
“We’re looking to see that things are not just restored back to the minimum…we know that doesn’t work. If you’re finding 10 or 12 crossties in a 39-foot section of track that are defective, it’s not a good practice to go in and replace two or three just to restore the track.”
Also contributing to the accident was what NTSB described as “inadequate oversight” on the part of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
While FRA inspectors raised the carrier’s attention to track defects — the agency had just initiated a compliance agreement in late 2016 as a result of a fiery oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore. — and some action was taken, Hiller said not all enforcement measures, such as civil penalties, were used.
NTSB investigators also noted that FRA inspectors neglected to report some defective crosstie conditions.
After the Graettinger accident, Hiller said that the carrier has shown “very good response” to reports of tie defects and maintenance and has performed twice-weekly inspections on the subdivision in a post-accident agreement with FRA.
However, the NTSB did note that there was one week where the carrier inspected the subdivision only once.
“The extent of post-accident actions, while welcome, hints at the inadequacy of UP’s pre-accident maintenance and inspection program,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said. “The railroad is supposed to look for and fix unsafe conditions as a matter of course.”
Finally, the use of U.S. DOT 111 tanker cars to transport the ethanol also worsened the environmental impact of the accident, investigators said.
Hiller said that 10 of the 14 tankers that breached met old DOT 111 specifications “identified as having a high probability of releasing hazardous materials.”
DOT 117 specifications established by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Agency (PHMSA) add reinforcement and other design features to cars transporting both crude oil and ethanol.
“The tougher design would have prevented the release,” Sumwalt said.
FRA identifies ethanol as the most hazardous material that is transported by rail in the United States. The denaturing process adds toxic compounds to make it unfit for human consumption and also lessens the tax burden for the carriers transporting it because it is not a beverage.
In the Graettinger accident, the ethanol was undenatured, meaning that the toxins were not added to the alcohol being transported.
“This seems to have had a beneficial effect on safety,” Sumwalt said. “Investigators found milder damage in this accident than in previous accidents with the same type of tank cars, but those involved denatured alcohol.”
It was suggested that a safety benefit might be achieved by getting rid of denaturants when transporting ethanol.
“Never before have I seen a regulation to make a hazardous material more hazardous,” Robert Hall, an expert in hazardous materials transport, said of the denaturing process. “It doesn’t make sense.”
A May 1, 2023, regulatory deadline has been set for all DOT 111 tank cars that carry ethanol to be changed over or retrofitted to meet the higher DOT 117 standards. In order to achieve that deadline, about 350 tank cars per month must be changed over.
At the hearing, NTSB issued three new safety recommendations and reiterated one safety recommendation to the FRA, PHMSA and UP. They address training on safety standards and available enforcement options for federal track inspectors, the need for research to determine if safety would be improved by transporting ethanol in an undenatured state, and the need for Union Pacific to re-examine track maintenance and inspection program standards on all routes carrying high hazardous flammable materials.
“The recommendations just issued, if acted upon, will result in better training for FRA track inspectors and clear guidance involving available enforcement options,” Sumwalt said. “They will result in UP re-examining its track maintenance and inspection program standards. Today’s recommendations will result in research by PHMSA into whether alcohol — ethanol — should be transported in an undenatured state and furthermore, a recommendation first issued in 2015 and reiterated today will result in progress milestone schedules for the phasing out of the DOT 111 tank cars for ethanol service by 2023, if acted upon.
“Otherwise, we risk a so-called sudden realization that isn’t sudden at all. We could have seen this train coming down the track.”
NTSB’s report states alcohol or drug use, and cell phone use were not factors in the accident, nor was the mechanical condition of the train, the performance of the train crew or the emergency response a factor. The full report will be available on the NTSB website when finalized.
Brother Nicholas A. Vosejpka, of Hampton, Minn., a switchman with SMART TD Local 1614, died while on duty Dec. 30, 2017, as he worked as a yard foreman at Union Pacific’s Hoffman Yard in St. Paul, Minn.
Vosejpka, 35, was walking in the yard performing an air-test in temperatures well below zero with gusting wind at approximately 7:30 p.m. CST, Local 1614 Chairman Brad Nelsen reported. A student and new-hire switch person were with Brother Vosejpka when he collapsed, Nelsen said.
Emergency personnel responded and were unable to revive Vosejpka. UP yard crews were tied up thereafter.
“Brother Vosejpka was a hard worker, good man and a good rail worker,” said Nelsen.
Brother Vosejpka is survived by his mother, Brenda, young children Carter and Madison and extended family.
Funeral services will be at Rejoice Church in Dundas on Friday, January 5, 2018, beginning at 11 a.m. Visitation will be Thursday, January 4, 2018, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Bierman Funeral Home and one hour prior to the service in the church. Burial will be at Calvary Cemetery in Lonsdale. In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred.
By a margin of nearly four to one, SMART Transportation Division members have voted to APPROVE the new National Rail Contract. The voting was conducted by BallotPoint Election Services, who certified the following results for each craft eligible to vote:
The approved contract will have an effective date of December 1, 2017, with implementation of new pay rates and employee healthcare cost-sharing modifications planned for January 1, 2018. Employees’ monthly healthcare contributions will remain frozen at $228.89 for the life of the contract.
The term of the agreement is for five years, from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2019. In addition to a 3% increase previously negotiated and already implemented on January 1, 2015, the contract provides for full retroactive pay of 2% from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, and 4% from July 1, 2017, until implementation of the new rates. Thereafter, affected members will receive a boost in wage rates of 2.5% on July 1, 2018, and 3% on July 1, 2019.
The ratified contract will cover over 35,000 SMART TD members employed by BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, Union Pacific and numerous smaller carriers, all of whom were represented in this round of bargaining by the rail industry’s National Carriers’ Conference Committee.
The SMART TD negotiating team was led by President John Previsich, who was assisted in the negotiations by Vice Presidents David Wier, John Lesniewski, Troy Johnson, John England, Doyle Turner and Jeremy Ferguson, along with General Chairpersons Danny Young (BNSF), Mark Cook (NS), Brent Leonard (UP) and Steve Mavity (CSX), all four of whom are nationally elected TD officers in addition to serving as General Chairpersons.
For this round of bargaining, SMART TD joined forces with five other unions to form the Coordinated Bargaining Group. The other unions in the CBG are the American Train Dispatchers Association; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (a Division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers and the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers/SEIU.
President Previsich commented: “I believe that our negotiating team, along with the teams from the other unions in the CBG, are to be commended for staying the course during a long and tedious round of negotiations. The easy thing for them to do when the going got tough was to declare defeat and walk away from the negotiating table, as others have done, but our team never wavered. By rejecting the carriers’ unreasonable demands while staying at the table and continuing to negotiate, the team was successful in obtaining an agreement that achieved an approval rate of 79.57%.”
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.
A ride on a UTV in September nearly turned fatal for Shane Leach when he severed an artery in his arm and nearly bled to death in the desert.
While out with a friend, Leach’s vehicle tipped on a turn. It rolled onto his arm, pinning it between the UTV and the ground.
About a month in intensive care followed, as did about 15 surgeries in which doctors were able to reconstruct and eventually save his left arm.
“I was in surgery almost every other day just to work on my arm,” the 21-year-old from Las Vegas said.
And Leach, a new hire as a conductor in April for Union Pacific, said that he was about two weeks short of receiving full union benefits when the accident happened.
“It put me in a spot where I had to just figure things out,” he said.
But SMART Transportation Division Nevada State Legislative Director Jason Doering, Local 1117 President Wyatt Kelly, and Vince Ybarra, chairman of Local 1117, in Las Vegas, Nev., and others weren’t going to let Leach figure it out alone. They visited Shane in the hospital before his November discharge and helped to lift his spirits.
“They’ve called and checked in on him,” said Brenna Bristol Leach, Shane’s mother. “He really wants to go back to work, he really enjoyed the culture. The outreach from the guys has solidified that.”
Shane Leach said a recent drive past a local railyard reminded him how he can’t wait to get back aboard.
“I just thought – I loved my job when I got it,” he said. “It was really tough in the hospital to have that taken away. It just motivates me to do as much work as I can to get back.
“It really showed me how much I really enjoy being a railroader.”
Bristol Leach said the doctors who cared for Shane in the hospital have said that he’ll recover use of his arm, but a timeline has not been defined – there’s still physical therapy and orthopedic exams for Leach to power through, which means more time away from work and more stress on his depleted savings.
“It could be six months, it could be less, it could be more,” Bristol Leach said.
But the major surgeries and skin grafts have been successful for Shane, she said, and her son remains upbeat for an eventual return to the railroad alongside his future SMART TD brothers and sisters.
“It really makes me feel good that they haven’t given up on me, and it motivates me to get through the therapy and get back out on the rails,” Leach said.
The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) announced Oct. 12 that it ruled that a collision between a pair of Union Pacific trains in Texarkana, Texas, in September 2015 was probably caused by crewmembers who did not respond to wayside signal indicators because they had fallen asleep.
The board also said that the lack of a functioning positive train control was a contributing factor in the collision.
At 12:34 a.m. Sept. 8, 2015, when a westbound UP engine on the Pine Bluff Subdivision struck a northbound UP train that was traveling on the Little Rock Subdivision, the board said.
Data from the locomotive event recorder of the striking train showed that the train slowed from 19 to 6 mph after the engineer applied the emergency brakes, the board said.
The engineer and conductor of the westbound train were treated for minor injuries, and there were no injuries to the crew of the northbound train, the board said.
Both of the westbound train’s locomotives derailed, spilling 4,000 of diesel fuel, while seven cars of the train that was struck left the tracks, the board said.
The NTSB said damage to the trains was estimated at $4.66 million.
The board also announced Oct. 17 that it was to convene Nov. 14 to determine probable cause of a collision that happened April 3, 2016, between an Amtrak train and a backhoe that killed a pair of rail workers who were repairing track ballast in Chester, Pa.
A total of 41 passengers were taken to the hospital after the collision, the board’s preliminary report said.
Earlier this year, Union Pacific instituted a revised attendance policy for transportation employees. This new policy contained the following provision which allowed them to discipline employees who utilized their collectively bargained compensated leave days (personal leave, vacation, etc.):
Q: 7. Are personal leave or single vacation day(s) subject to review under the Attendance Policy?
A: Personal leave and/or single vacation days may be subject to review if the use of these days indicates a frequency or pattern of avoiding work and failing to protect one’s employment on a full time basis.
Such compensated time is part of the collective bargaining/agreement bedrock guaranteed to operating employees. Unilateral changes to how such compensated time is utilized is highly improper under the Railway Labor Act.
In response, SMART TD General Chairpersons Brent Leonard representing GO 953, Al Nowlin representing GO 569, Jerry Kalbfell representing GO 225, Roy Davis representing GO 577, Steve Simpson representing GO 927, and Gary Crest representing GO 887, worked together in solidarity, serving a single notice of SMART Transportation Division’s intent to initiate a strike unless Union Pacific removed this egregious new provision from its attendance policy.
Upon reviewing the Organization’s position, Union Pacific removed the policy provision restricting the use of compensated leave, and SMART Transportation Division members will not lose time over a work stoppage due to this issue. This is a precedent-setting victory in the protection of member’s use of their compensated vacation and leave days.
Union Pacific (UP) announced that they plan to layoff 500 managers (8 percent) and 250 railroad workers in an effort to cut costs. Most of the manager jobs being cut are located at UP headquarters in Omaha, Neb.
Click here to read more from ABC affiliate KETV 7.
According to a press release from Union Pacific (UP), the railroad’s safety programs have contributed to a 5 percent decline in vehicle-train collisions at crossings for the first half of 2017, as compared to last year.