To help get through the cold winter, low-income homeowners in Chicago and Chicago Heights received free furnace and boiler tune-ups to keep them safe and warm. This initiative was the result of a partnership between Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago, SM Local 73 and SMACNA Greater Chicago.

When the risks associated with COVID-19 limited Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago’s ability to perform interior home repair, the organization met the challenge by broadening the services it provides to families and elderly homeowners. As part of this transition, Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago led an outreach effort with the intent of assessing its clients’ unique needs, while providing valuable referrals and connections to other resources in the community. From ensuring food security to providing PPE, Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago has responded to the crisis by providing a safer, more secure home environment for area residents.

In December 2020, a partnership with Local 73 and SMACNA Greater Chicago provided warmer, safer home environments for low-income families in preparation for winter. This initiative, called Warm the Metro, enlists union members and local HVAC contractors to visit more than 50 homes annually, offering free tune-up services on boilers and furnaces. This year, the Warm the Metro partnership provided tune-ups in 64 homes, plus full replacements in five.

“Furnace and boiler tune-ups are exactly the type of support our homeowners need to stay safe and warm through the winter. We are delighted to continue this partnership for a second year, and so grateful to our SMACNA and Local 73 friends,” said Wanda Ramirez, CEO of Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago.

In addition to providing improved heating efficiency, safety and indoor comfort, a regular furnace tune-up can spell the difference between a five- to 10-year and a 15- to 20-year life expectancy for a heating system. To complete the tune-ups, Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago partnered with South Suburban Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc., and RD’s HVAC, Inc. for the Warm the Metro initiative.

“The men and women of Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 73 have a long history of giving back to our community,” said Local 73 President and Business Manager Raymond Suggs. “We are proud to work with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago to Warm the Metro in preparation for winter. The danger posed by COVID-19 makes it more important than ever to have a safe, warm, comfortable home to protect residents’ health and safety this winter. We look forward to future partnerships with Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago and continuing to provide and give back our services to those in need.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that Hunter Harrison, CEO of CSX, is at it again – killing jobs and rolling over safety measures to increase profits that benefit only a select few.
According to the report, more than 60 engineers, conductors and switchmen at Barr Yard in Chicago have been furloughed, fueling speculation that the Chicago yard may soon close.
John Risch, SMART TD national legislative director was quoted for the story:
“There’s one person to blame, and it’s E. Hunter Harrison,” Risch said. “He’s the guy that plunged into this thing forcefully and just decided to make major changes, and they’re not very well thought through.”’
Read the entire article here.

The doors of a packed Metra BNSF train opened while going 34 mph, reported the Chicago Sun-Times. No one was hurt and the doors quickly closed after an estimated three seconds.
SMART TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy told the Sun-Times that when engineers are pulling out of a station, they’re focused on the track ahead and a door light can easily be overlooked.
Click here to read more from the Chicago Sun-Times.

CC_mag mile lights
Credit: © Choose Chicago

Members planning to attend one or both of the SMART Transportation Division regional meetings this summer can now make reservations for either city. 

Click here to register online for the San Francisco regional meeting. Click here to register online for the Chicago regional meeting. Click here for the mail-in registration form.

Regional meeting registration is available online now by going to the Meetings page and clicking on the respective city. Hotel information can be accessed by visiting www.utu.org and clicking on the “Meetings” box on the bottom of the homepage. Links to the host hotels, city visitor bureaus, and online car-rental are also available.

Regional meetings will be held July 4-6 in San Francisco and July 25-27 in Chicago.

Each regional meeting will run for 2.5 days, ending early on the afternoon of the third day. The evening of the first day has been left unscheduled so you, your family and friends will be free to explore and enjoy the many offerings of the regional meeting cities.

All those attending the regional meetings must be registered in order to attend any planned social function. Children ages 11 and under who are pre-registered are complimentary.

The pre-registration fee for the 2016 regional meetings is $150 per member, spouse or child over age 11, the same fee charged the last eight years. Additional fees apply for the golf outings and family tours. You must make your own room reservations, and certain deadlines apply.

The $150 registration fee covers all workshop materials; a welcoming reception the night before the meeting; three lunches and one evening meal. Those wishing to attend only the workshops do not need to pay the registration fee. No one-day registrations are offered.

You may cancel your meeting registration 10 days prior to the first day of the meeting or the golf outing without penalty. Call the SMART Transportation Division at (216) 228-9400 or email ghenges@smart-union.org immediately regarding any changes or cancellations.

If you choose to register by mail, you must submit a completed registration form listing each attendee, regardless of age. Complete payment in U.S. funds must be received at the SMART Transportation Division, 24950 Country Club Blvd., Suite 340, North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333, by June 19 for the San Francisco meeting or by July 3 for the Chicago meeting, or the registrant will be charged an on-site registration fee of $200.

railyard, train yard; trainsWith last week’s 7 feet of snow in upstate New York heralding an early winter, railroads crisscrossing Chicago are rushing to open 24-hour command centers, install heaters to keep switches from freezing, and plotting ways to reroute traffic.

The aim is to avoid the gridlock that started with storms last winter in Chicago, the biggest Midwest city and the epicenter of a rail system where the six largest U.S. and Canadian lines intersect. Even after adding engines, crews and capacity carriers from Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway Co. to Norfolk Southern Corp. (NSC:US) are still recovering from last winter’s delays as this one roars in.

Read the complete story at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Amtrak Logo WASHINGTON — Right now, you would need $75 minimum and at least nine hours of travel time to get from Chicago to Omaha aboard an Amtrak train cutting across southern Iowa and missing most of the state’s major cities.

Not very convenient, or efficient. If Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa Legislature had come up with the $20.6 million needed to match a federal grant awarded to Iowa and Illinois four years ago, a new intercity railway eventually could have run through some of the bigger cities in the eastern half of the state.

Rail passengers could get from Chicago to Iowa City in less than five hours. And the line potentially could be extended to Omaha.

Read the complete story from The Gazette.

oil-train-rail Warning that the frequent railroad trains loaded with crude oil passing through the Chicago area are a “serious risk to public safety,” the City Council is calling for tighter restrictions on the shipments than federal officials proposed in July.

Council members on Tuesday also asked that the city and other municipalities be given the authority to impose a hazardous material transportation fee on shippers – money that would help cover the cost of training firefighters and supplying the equipment and foam to battle a tank car derailment and fire.

Read the complete story at the Chicago Tribune.

CHICAGO – An emergency track-side braking system activated but failed to stop a Chicago commuter train from jumping the tracks and barreling to the top of an escalator at O’Hare International Airport, a federal investigator said Tuesday.

The events that led to Monday’s accident, which occurred around 3 a.m. and injured more than 30 passengers, might have begun with the train operator dozing off toward the end of her shift, according the union representing transit workers. But Tuesday’s announcement that a piece of emergency safety equipment might have failed was the first indication the accident could have been caused by human error and mechanical failure.

Read the complete story at the Associated Press.

At a roundtable discussion June 10, local representatives for transportation, labor and commerce urged members of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials to pledge more funding to a plan aimed at overhauling the region’s rail system, otherwise known as the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program, or Create.

The initiative is a public-private partnership between federal, state and local governments and Metra, Amtrak and the nation’s freight railroads that seeks to improve the flow of rail transportation in and around Chicago. Ten years along, the mammoth project is barely one-third complete and vastly over budget. The plan’s initial cost estimate was $1.5 billion; now it’s closer to $3.2 billion, officials said. Of that, $1.2 billion already has been spent or committed, they said.

Read the full story at Crain’s Chicago Business News.

Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy offered the following testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

“Chairman Denham, Ranking Member Brown, Members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, my name is Bob Guy and I serve as the Illinois State Legislative Director of the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation Union, or SMART. The Transportation Division of SMART, formally the United Transportation Union, represents approximately 80,000 transportation employees working in all operating crafts like conductors, engineers, yardmasters, trainmen and switchmen. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about our views on rail transportation policy.

“Our organization has a long history working with the railroad industry on a variety of important issues, including the CREATE project. We see projects, like those we are here to discuss today, as a way to not only benefit the national economy but are ones that will benefit our members and workers across the country. Thank you again for holding this discussion in hopes of finding ways to expedite the completion of the CREATE program.

“With the growing demand for l passenger and freight rail services in this region, we certainly view the CREATE project as a part of a broader national discussion about the state of our transportation system and not just another policy debate. This project is about providing mobility for the people of this region, generating new economic opportunities, and providing American businesses with the infrastructure they need to distribute their products to the rest of the world. CREATE needs to happen if we hope to ensure the U.S. standing as a dominant force in the global marketplace.

“CREATE and its partners worked together to identify the causes of transportation congestion and then agreed on the best solutions to fix them. The CREATE plan , combines specific projects into one comprehensive plan, identifies the sources of funds needed from both the public and private interests to implement the plan. The CREATE plan has already started, and completed some initial projects so I’m happy to report we are already under way. We also have a budget proposal in place from the FRA that provides the funds needed for the ultimate completion of this comprehensive plan. The current FRA budget proposal provides $2.87 billion dollars for Congestion Mitigation and Freight Capacity improvements in the Rail Service Improvement Program Section.

“For years, any railroad meeting in Chicago included the topic of how can we get CREATE completed and the answer always seemed to be “We must get this project into the U.S. DOT Budget!” There has been great progress and we now have this project included in the FRA budget proposal, our next step is to make sure this budget, and this project, gets the necessary long-term funding for timely completion.

“Among the many great attributes of the CREATE program are particularly important to us as railroad operating employees, and those are the projects involving highway-rail grade crossing separations. These projects obviously allow for more fluid and efficient movement of both trains and vehicles and provide the region with a demonstrated public benefit, but they also prevent vehicle-train collisions, a safety benefit that we wholeheartedly support.

“I worked as a railroad operating employee for years in the Chicago area’s congested rail lines and have sat for hours on trains breathing in diesel exhaust waiting for traffic to clear, and I can report it’s not only a unhealthy situation for railroad employees idling locomotives wastes fuel and emits exhaust emissions unnecessarily.

“CREATE will also be impacted by the expiration of two very important rail laws at the end of FY 2013, those are the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) and the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA).

“Within these two reauthorizations we ask that the committee provide adequate, predictable and long-term funding for Amtrak and to ensure continued passenger investment. Investments in CREATE, Amtrak and High-Speed Rail are essential to our nation’s economic future and will help create an essential transportation service that links more communities across the country and will help put Americans back to work.

“This investment will also help increase an already record ridership level on Amtrak. Our research indicates that each weekday, more than 1,900 flights depart O’Hare with destinations of 500 miles or less. An integrated High Speed Rail system connecting the population centers in the Midwest could easily make 50% of these flights unnecessary by providing competitive train service, much like what is currently taking place on the Northeast Corridor. Opening up 1,000 departure slots at O’Hare would help air congestion nationwide, and would also be cost beneficial by providing opportunities for more long distance and international flights.

“In closing, in the months ahead when the committee works on important issues like CREATE, PRIIA and RSIA, we ask that you consider other important topics that are vital to railroad operating crews, including:

  • Avoiding risky attempts to privatize Amtrak’s operations and core services;
  • Safeguard the rights, jobs and wages of front-line workers;
  • Maintain and strengthen Buy America policies;
  • Implement fair passenger carrier licensing provisions;
  • Ensure strong safety provisions to protect rail workers and operations, including addressing worker fatigue issues within the industry and ensuring the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC).

“I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts with the Committee today. I will be happy to answer any questions.”