CLEVELAND, Ohio, February 12 — In response to a series of joint petitions by the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on February 11 granted a longer-term waiver, providing a 60-day extension to time limits in which certain petitions for review must be filed with the Operating Crew Review Board (OCRB). Previously, the unions had secured a series of waivers, which date back to April 7, 2020.
Under FRA regulations governing certification of locomotive engineers and conductors, a petition seeking review of a railroad’s decision to deny certification or recertification, or to revoke certification, must be filed with the OCRB no more than 120 days after the date of the railroad’s denial decision. That 120-day time limit now has been extended by an additional sixty (60) days.
In granting the relief under FRA’s standard, non-emergency authority, the Agency stated, “[d]ue to the ongoing and unpredictable nature of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), FRA finds that extending the requested relief is in the public interest and consistent with railroad safety.” The waiver granting a 60-day extension for all petitions for review will expire February 11, 2022, unless subsequently extended, or three (3) months after the FRA Administrator rescinds the existing Emergency Declaration related to COVID-19, whichever is sooner.
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 crafts in the transportation industry.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
In a victory for safety, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) denied a request by Kansas City Southern Railroad (KCSR) to outsource brake inspections to Mexico, the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) reports.
“In its decision, the FRA correctly told KCSR that their request – which TTD and our rail unions strongly opposed – was ‘not in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety.’ We could not agree more,” said TTD President Larry I. Willis.
In 2008, the FRA granted KCSR conditional regulatory relief of 49 C.F.R. § 232.205 (a)(1) and 49 C.F.R. Part 215. In lieu of conducting the required inspections at the International Bridge interchange, the FRA allowed KCSR to move freight cars received in interchange from KCSR’s Mexican operations across the U.S./Mexico border to KCSR’s yard in Laredo without performing a full Class I brake test at the border. One of the conditions set by the FRA was that KCSR must perform Class III brake tests (set and release) at the International Bridge interchange. In their petition to the FRA, dated May 31, 2018, KCSR requested that the Class III brake tests be performed at their Mexican Nuevo Laredo and Sanchez Yards instead of at the interchange.
In their request, KCSR maintained that it would be safer to perform the tests at the Mexican yards due to vandalism while the trains are stopped and blocked Mexican crossings, however, KCSR offered no specific evidence demonstrating any safety or security risks of performing the Class III tests at the interchange.
“FRA cannot approve KCSR’s request to move the test to its affiliate KCSM’s (Kansas City Southern de México Railway) yards 9 miles across the border within Mexico. …The Board is denying KCSR’s May 31, 2018, request to modify the existing relief in this docket because KCSR has not demonstrated that a modification is in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety,” the FRA’s Robert C. Lauby, associate administrator for railroad safety, said in his response letter to KCSR, dated March 8, 2019.
“The FRA’s decision is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” Willis said. “Last year, the FRA granted KCSR permission to operate trains with crews from Mexico to Laredo, nine miles across the border. This decision was made without input from the public or any guarantee U.S. safety standards are being met.”
SMART TD and BLET sent a joint letter to U.S. DOT opposing the decision to allow KCSR to operate Mexican train crews within the United States.