Risch
Risch
In a joint letter, SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director John Risch and Brotherhood of Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman, submitted a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) withdrawing their previous letter dated Jan. 12 requesting that the FRA make a final rule mandating uniform warning speed signs in advance of speed restrictions. Risch and Tolman still ask that speed signs be standardized in dimensions, conspicuity, color and distance ahead of a speed restriction, but are asking that this issue be presented to the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) first. Click here to read Risch’s and Tolman’s original letter dated Jan. 12. Click here to read the withdrawal letter dated Feb. 26.

(The following is a joint statement by Dennis R. Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and John Previsich, President, SMART Transportation Division, regarding questions that have arisen since the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015.)

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Previsich

CLEVELAND, May 19 — Members of BLET’s Safety Task Force and SMART Transportation Division’s National Safety Team, in addition to representatives from the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference (BMWED), are working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to assist in the investigation of the catastrophic May 12 derailment of Amtrak Train 188. 

Significant progress has been made in understanding how the accident occurred on May 12. That portion of the investigation is not yet complete, however, and even more work needs to be done to determine why the events of that tragic night transpired the way they did.

BLET and SMART TD do not make official comments about any ongoing NTSB investigation. Due to the number of press inquiries concerning issues not under investigation, however, we are providing the following information on why Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor are manned by a lone engineer in the control cab and why Positive Train Control (PTC) has not been installed on the Corridor.  The answers to both questions begin with the United States Congress. 

pierce

Pierce

Why a One-Person Train Crew?
In 1981, Congress passed legislation (the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981) that ended the previous Conrail requirement that there be a second crew member in the control cab of commuter rail trains on the Northeast Corridor.  Armed with that legislative precedent — and mindful of where its funding originates — Amtrak has since 1983 refused to crew Northeast Corridor trains with more than one employee in the cab – the locomotive engineer.  Although BLET and SMART TD have steadfastly maintained that there should be two crew members in the cab of all trains to ensure public safety, only Congress can change the 1981 legislation that reduced crew size on the Northeast Corridor.   But this is only one piece of a very large, complex puzzle.

Why No Positive Train Control?
On the heels of another catastrophic railroad accident in Chatsworth, Calif., the federal government mandated in 2008 that Positive Train Control (PTC) be put in effect by the end of this year.  That was seven years ago. Even with that mandate in place, and with the exception of some railroads such as BNSF Railway, the industry at large has spent the interim finding reasons to avoid implementing PTC technology. They have created the situation about which they all now complain — they say they cannot meet the December 31, 2015 deadline.  Each death caused by the delay of PTC implementation is one too many, yet Congress is preparing to consider a blanket 5-year extension to 2020.  This is most certainly not in the public interest. 

Since 2005, the NTSB has completed 16 investigations of railroad accidents that could have been prevented or mitigated with PTC. These 16 accidents claimed 52 lives — many being BLET and SMART TD members — and injured 942 people, with damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. NTSB has publicly stated that the accident on May 12, 2015 was also PTC preventable. There is no disagreement over the value of PTC technology.

That said, there is no technology available today that can ever safely replace a second crew member in the cab of the locomotive.  The only thing on a locomotive that is not a machine is the crew. The uncontrolled external environment in which trains are operated along with regulatory and operational demands of a safe transportation service demand a crew of at least two fully trained and qualified employees in the control cab of every train. PTC is only a safety overlay that ensures a safer operation, and no technology can replace the level of safety provided when two crew members are on board and can serve as a check and balance to one another.

Even with all the safety-related technology that the government has mandated on commercial airlines, the public would never accept an airline operation with a single person in the cockpit. There is no reason that rail employees and rail passengers’ lives should be viewed any differently.

Contrary to what some in government may say, the only place that crew size and PTC do connect is when it comes to funding. That is especially true in the case of Amtrak, because the government has woefully underfunded Amtrak since its inception. Additional crew members and new technology both cost money, and so long as those in Congress see fit to underfund the operation, they undermine their own mandate and shortchange the safety of the traveling public.  

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The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents more than 55,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The SMART?Transportation Division is headquartered in the Cleveland suburb of North Olmsted, Ohio. It is a broad-based, transportation labor union representing about 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus, mass transit and airline workers in the United States. It is a division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers based in Washington, D.C.

A SMART Transportation Division member was seriously injured and a BLET engineer was killed when a taxi hired by Union Pacific Railroad to transport the men rolled off the side of a freeway near the Interstate 680/Interstate 80 interchange, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The accident happened just after 1 a.m. this morning (March 17) in Fairfield, Calif.

Scott Moffitt, 51, who was seated in the left rear seat, was injured and engineer Alexander Sassman, 51, who was seated in the right rear seat, was killed. The taxi driver was also injured. Moffitt and the driver were taken to NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield.

Moffitt is a member of Transportation Division Local 1570 at Roseville, Calif.

The taxi was transporting the two UP employees from San Jose to Roseville.

Previsich

CLEVELAND, Dec. 17 — Top leaders of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) announced today that their organizations will be participating with four other rail unions in coordinated bargaining in the upcoming round of national negotiations.

On Dec. 8, 2014, BLET general chairmen and SMART–TD general chairpersons each served bargaining notices on their respective railroads, including identical notices related to health and welfare and related benefits.

“Today we build on the successes of joint bargaining during the past two national rounds,” said BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce. “Now more than ever before it is imperative that the unions representing railroad operating crafts sit side-by-side at the national table, and I am pleased that we have been able to accomplish that.”

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Pierce

“This is a landmark occasion for BLET members and SMART–TD members alike,” said SMART–TD President John Previsich. “Today’s announcement builds on several years of cooperation between our organizations on a variety of common issues, and is the logical next step for our great unions. Working together will allow rail labor to make the strongest possible effort to obtain for our members the wages and working conditions that they deserve.”

Also participating in the coordinated bargaining effort are the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers (IBB), and the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers/SEIU (NCFO).

Jointly, the participating unions represent more than 85,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements, and comprise over 58% of the workforce who will be impacted by the negotiations.

SEPTA_logo_150px SEPTA moved Monday to impose management’s terms in a long-running labor dispute with Regional Rail workers, which union leaders said could prompt a strike that would halt all commuter rail service at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

SEPTA’s goal apparently is to risk a strike now, when ridership is lower, than next winter, when more commuters and students rely on the system. Regional Rail trains carry about 126,000 riders a day.

“We need to get an agreement now,” SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey said Monday. “Seven thousand other SEPTA employees have already accepted this wage package, but these 400 are holding out.”

SEPTA chief labor relations officer Stephanie K. Deiger on Monday alerted union leaders that SEPTA had sent letters on Friday to Regional Rail engineers and electrical workers, describing its intent to give them raises proposed by SEPTA effective next Sunday.

Read the whole story at Philly.com.

SEPTA_logo_150px Nearly 99 percent of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) members working for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) have voted to authorize a strike when a mandatory 30-day cooling off period under the Railway Labor Act ends in less than two weeks, BLET officials announced this morning.

Locomotive engineers could walk off the job or be locked out by SEPTA at 12:01 a.m. on June 14 unless President Barack Obama intervenes and appoints a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB), according to a BLET press release. A PEB would delay a strike or lockout, and would investigate and issue a report and recommendations concerning a dispute in negotiations, union officials said.

Read the complete story at Progressive Railroading.

BREWSTER, Ohio – The more than 100 locomotive engineers and trainmen who went on strike Friday have been ordered by a federal judge to return to work.

U.S. District Court Judge John R. Adams issued a temporary restraining order late Friday afternoon that ended the daylong strike by the members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which included pickets in front of the terminal on Wabash Avenue. The workers had cited safety violations as the reason for the protest against the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway.

Read the complete story at the Canton Repository.

 

HERMON, Maine — The runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train that plowed through a small Quebec town killing 50 people on July 6 had one engineer assigned to it.

The American union of railway workers representing most of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway workers thinks the practice is dangerous, and has fought that work condition unsuccessfully since it began several years ago, its representatives say.

Read the complete story at Bangor Daily News.

U.S. Capitol Building; Capitol Building; Washington D.C. WASHINGTON — In the face of bipartisan get-tough-with-labor legislation introduced in the House and Senate, two of the remaining unions without national rail contracts agreed to a tentative settlement Dec. 1, and a third reached agreement with the carriers Dec. 1 to extend a cooling-off period into February.

With these agreements, the threat of a national railroad strike has been averted for now.

Previously, the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the various shopcrafts, including the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, reached tentative six-year agreements with the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC). The NCCC represents BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Soo Line, Union Pacific and numerous smaller railroads in national handling.

UTU members earlier ratified a five-year national rail contract.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the American Train Dispatchers Association agreed Dec. 1 to a tentative six-year agreement as recommended last month by Presidential Emergency Board No. 243. References to the UTU’s ratified national rail contract are extensive in the PEB recommendations.

While the BLET is in national handling for health care, it previously reached ratified wage agreements with BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern for lower wage increases than the UTU and other organizations, and continues separate talks on wages with Union Pacific.

Also, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes reached agreement with the NCCC to extend into February a cooling-off period that was to expire Dec. 5.

The BLET and train dispatchers’ tentative agreements, and the cooling-off period extension agreed to by the BMWE Dec. 1, came in the face of separate House and Senate resolutions.

The House resolution, H.J. 91 and introduced by House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), would have imposed as a final agreement on the BLET, the train dispatchers and the BMWE the PEB recommendations.

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was set to introduce for immediate Senate vote an identical resolution (S.J. 31). After the BLET, train dispatchers’ and BMWE agreements were announced late Dec. 1, Sen. Reid said:

“I applaud all the stakeholders who worked to avert a work stoppage that would have hurt our nation’s economy just as the holiday season gets underway. It is Congress’ constitutional duty to ensure the unfettered flow of interstate commerce, and to protect the nation’s economic well-being. I am pleased with this outcome and congratulate all sides, including the White House and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for their effort to find common ground that protects our economy and keeps it on-track.”

WASHINGTON – Senior House Republicans Nov. 29 said they would act to head off a railroad work stoppage if rail unions that so far have not settled with the carriers do not have a voluntary settlement in place by the end of a final 30-day cooling off period that expires Dec. 6.

The UTU has a ratified national rail agreement in place, while the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the various shopcrafts have reached tentative agreements. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and the American Train Dispatchers Association have not reached a tentative agreement following recommendations for settlement by a Presidential Emergency Board.

(The BLET has ratified wage agreements in place with BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern — and is in separate wage negotiations with Union Pacific — but is in national handling for health care. The BMWE and the ATDA are in national handling for wage and health care agreements. Carriers in national handling include BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Soo Line, Union Pacific and many smaller railroads. The carriers are represented by the National Carriers Conference Committee.)

If a national agreement between the BLET, the BMWE, the ATDA and the carriers is not reached by Dec. 6, the Railway Labor Act has run its course and the parties not yet in accord will be free to engage in self-help – a strike by labor or lockout by railroads.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said if tentative agreements involving the BLET, the BMWE and the ATDA are not reached by Dec. 6, they would act to prevent a work stoppage.

Typically, Congress intervenes with a back-to-work order almost immediately following a work stoppage, but there is nothing to prevent Congress from acting in advance to head off a strike by, for example, legislating the PEB recommendations or even its own settlement terms.

The three senior House Republicans told The Hill newspaper Nov. 29, “We are following with concern the situation involving our nation’s railways, and we are troubled by the possibility of a national railway strike that would jeopardize American jobs and cost our nation’s economy an estimated $2 billion per day.

“While our hope is that the parties involved will find common ground and resolve the situation without congressional involvement, the House is prepared to take legislative action in the days ahead to avert a job-destroying shutdown of our nation’s railroads, in the event such legislation proves necessary,” Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy said.

“A shutdown of our nation’s railways, which would harm our economy and endanger many American jobs, is unacceptable,” they said. “We are confident President Obama and the leaders of the Senate agree.”

The National Carriers Conference Committee earlier agreed to extend the cooling off period until at least February if all three of the remaining unions that have not yet settled agreed to the extension. The BLET declined Nov. 29 to agree to an extension of the cooling off period.

The nation’s largest shipper organization, the National Industrial Transportation League, as well as the Retail Federation of America and numerous other shippers have made pleas to Congress to head off a railroad work stoppage.

“For retailers, a strike during the busy holiday shopping season could be devastating,” the National Retail Federation said in a letter to Congress. “It is imperative that Congress recognize the severe economic harm threatened by the failure to reach agreement with the remaining rail unions and move quickly to prevent a rail strike that would prove devastating to both businesses and consumers.”