NTSB_logo WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board Sept. 24 issued a special investigation report on the recent increase in deaths of railroad and rail transit roadway workers on or near tracks and made recommendations to reduce the number of fatalities.

The Special Investigation Report on Railroad and Rail Transit Roadway Worker Protection provides details of 14 fatal accidents in 2013. Over the year, 15 roadway workers died. The number of deaths in 2013, the findings from investigations of those deaths and the increasing number of fatalities prompted the NTSB to look more closely at the issue of roadway worker safety and to recommend actions to address these issues.

Railroad and rail transit roadway workers are subject to on-the-job risks and hazards that are markedly different from those faced by other railroad employees. Of the fatalities in 2013, 11 resulted from 11 accidents on freight railroads and four were on commuter or transit railways. The average number of railroad worker fatalities has fluctuated but has remained about 6.4 per year from 1990 to 2013.

“Railroad roadway worker deaths have increased over the past three years,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “This trend is unacceptable.”

Among the report’s findings are that comprehensive job briefings could help prevent accidents and that national inspection protocols for work activities are necessary to ensure the safety of roadway workers.

The NTSB issued recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Fatality Analysis of Maintenance-of-Way Employees and Signalmen Committee. The recommendations call for additional training, harmonization of standards, a national inspection program and greater stakeholder participation in roadway worker fatalities, among other measures.

A summary of the special report is available at http://go.usa.gov/dZfj.

NTSB_logo LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A federal investigator said Tuesday (Aug. 19) that a signal that would have given a final instruction to the crew of a railroad train involved in a fatal head-on collision was damaged in the accident but could still hold clues as to what happened.

Crews are hopeful they can recover data from the signal, which was alongside a Union Pacific track near Hoxie in northeastern Arkansas. Two railroad workers died in the accident Sunday morning and two others were injured.

Read the complete story at the Houston Chronicle.

Brian Stone

GUYMON, Okla. – Three Union Pacific crewmembers died in a June 24 head-on collision between two freight trains near here that produced a diesel fuel-fed fire so intense that the thick, black smoke could be seen for 10 miles and caused the closing of a nearby small airport and evacuation of a nearby trailer park. The fire burned for more than 24 hours.

Dead are UTU member Brian L. Stone (Local 923), age 49, of Dalhart, Texas; engineer Dan Hall and engineer John Hall (no relation to Dan Hall). Stone had been a conductor since September 2003.

Conductor Juan Zurita (Local 923) reportedly jumped to safety and was uninjured. Engineer Dan Hall is the cousin of Local 923 delegate Randy N. Johnson.

Guymon is some 130 miles north of Amarillo, Texas, on the former Southern Pacific Golden State route linking El Paso with Kansas City. Union Pacific absorbed Southern Pacific in 1996.

The Oklahoman newspaper quoted NTSB member Mark Rosekind that one of the trains – and he declined to specify which — failed to take a siding and that no signal or brake malfunctions were initially found based on preliminary analysis of event recorders. “One train had the right of way,” Rosekind said. “We’re still getting the data to figure out what was scheduled to happen. There was a side track, and we’re trying to figure out what was supposed to be where, and when.”

Rosekind said no cellphones have been recovered, but that the NTSB intends to review phone records belonging to the four crew members. Federal regulations prohibit the use of electronic devices, including cell phones, while on duty.

Two members of the UTU Transportation Safety Team assisted NTSB investigators at the scene.

Stone is the fourth UTU member killed on duty in 2012. Local 887 (Harvey, N.D.) member Robert J. Glasgow, 38, was killed May 28 in a switching accident near Kenmare, N.D.; and Local 1383 (Gary, Ind.) member Michal M. Shoemaker, 55, was killed in a switching accident Jan. 30 in Gary, Ind. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority driver and Local 1563 member Alan Thomas, 51, was murdered aboard his bus May 20.

Ten UTU rail members were killed on duty in calendar year 2011, eight in 2010 and eight in 2009.

FALLON, Nev. – The truck driver who died when his tractor-trailer slammed into Amtrak’s westbound California Zephyr here June 24, had accumulated nine traffic tickets since 2007 – five for speeding in a commercial vehicle, twice for speeding in his personal automobile, once for a seat belt violation and once for illegally using a cellphone while driving.

Also killed in the highway-rail grade crossing accident was an Amtrak conductor and UTU member – Laurette Lee – and four passengers. Scores were injured, including Amtrak assistant conductor and UTU member Richard d’Alessandro.

Three of truck driver Lawrence Reuben Valli’s five speeding violations were issued while he was a school-bus driver for an unnamed California school system, reports The Los Angeles Times, citing information from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

In 2007, according to the San Francisco Examiner, Valli, while operating his own automobile, slammed into the rear of another auto near Reno on I-80 and was ticketed for speeding.

There has been no statement from the National Transportation Safety Board whether Valli was traveling in excess of the highway’s posted speed limit when his truck crashed into the Amtrak train. Skid marks on the highway were found and may help investigators determine the truck’s speed prior to impact.

NTSB member Earl Weener, serving as the agency’s spokesperson at the accident scene, said an outward facing camera in the Amtrak locomotive recorded that the signals and gates were working.

The NTSB said June 27 that a cellphone found in the wreckage, and thought to belong to Valli, will be examined to determine if it was in use while he was driving.

The San Francisco Examiner quoted a spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles that Valli had other offenses on his driving record that could not be disclosed – “Oh, yeah, lots more. He was a busy guy,” the spokesman said. Yet, according to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, there is no record of Valli having had his commercial driver’s license suspended or revoked.

As for the trucking company that employed Valli, the Associated Press reported that it had been issued seven safety violations over the past year, and one vehicle had been ordered out of service.

A trucking publication, Fleet Owner, reported, “Make no mistake, along with the lives lost and the injuries caused by the wreck, the crash is a sharp stick in the eye of all those in trucking and government alike who have been very publicly working across numerous fronts this year to increase commercial-vehicle safety performance.”

While sleep scientists have established that going to work fatigued is like going to work drunk, there remains a disconnect among those who manage transportation firms. And people are needlessly dying and being seriously injured as a result.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood June 1 criticized his own Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for not sooner putting a North Carolina bus operator — allegedly with a history of safety problems, including forcing drivers to work without sufficient rest — out of business sooner.

When the FMCSA finally got around to taking that shutdown action against the bus company May 31, four more lives were lost and 54 more passengers were injured.

The cause of that rollover bus accident near Richmond, Va., May 27 was driver fatigue, according to Virginia State Police, who jailed the bus operator for reckless driving. Seven times since October 2009, the bus company — Sky Express of Charlotte, N.C. — had been cited by the FMCSA for violating federal hours-of-service regulations requiring adequate rest for drivers, according to USA Today.

“I’m extremely disappointed that this carrier was allowed to continue operating unsafely when it should have been placed out of service,” LaHood told USA Today.

Sky Express received an “unsatisfactory” safety rating in April from the FMCSA, according to USA Today, but the FMCSA extended its investigation to, according to an FMCSA spokesperson, “make sure we had an airtight case to shut the company down.”

LaHood told USA Today, “There is no excuse for delay when a bus operator should be put out of service for safety’s sake. On my watch, there will never be another extension granted to a carrier we believe is unsafe.”

The FMCSA said Sky Express had numerous violations for keeping fatigued drivers behind the wheel and failing to ensure its drivers were properly licensed, had proper medical certificates, and could read road signs in English.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed driver fatigue for a 2008 bus crash in Utah that killed nine, and a 2004 crash in Arkansas that killed 14. A fatal bus crash near New York City March 12, which killed 15, is under investigation. The company operating the bus was cited five times in fewer than two years for allowing fatigued drivers behind the wheel.

UTU members should note that federal law protects aviation, bus and rail workers from retaliation and threats of retaliation when they report that a carrier violated federal hours-of-service regulations.

Whistle-blower complaints may be filed directly with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or you may contact a UTU designated legal counsel, your general chairperson or your state legislative director for assistance.

To view a more detailed OSHA fact sheet on whistle-blower protection, click on the following link:

www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA-factsheet-whistleblower-railroad.pdf

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration suggests scaling back by 10,000 miles a federal mandate that positive train control (PTC) be installed on some 140,000 miles of freight and passenger track no later than Dec. 31, 2015.

The 10,000 miles represents track over which freight railroads say neither passengers nor dangerous hazmat will be transported in 2015.

PTC is a crash-avoidance safety overlay system long supported by the National Transportation Safety Board and rail labor organizations. Installation of PTC was required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, with the FRA subsequently setting the 140,000-mile mandate, which was said to encompass all track over which passengers and the most dangerous hazmat cargo travel.

Bloomberg business news writer Angela Greiling Keane reports that the proposed 10,000-mile scale-back of PTC is part of a White House initiative to repeal or modify regulations at 30 federal agencies said to pose a significant compliance costs to American business.

The Association of American Railroads had previously filed a federal lawsuit seeking the 10,000-mile scale back of the PTC mandate; and rail CEOs earlier this year visited the White House to plead for administration support.

Railroads contend that the 140,000-mile FRA mandate for PTC installation is based on outdated hazmat traffic data, and that railroads will not be transporting those hazmat cargos over the 10,000 miles sought to be removed from the mandate. The Association of American Railroads says the removal of those 10,000 miles from the mandate will save the industry some $500 million in installation costs.

There is currently no provision to liberalize the timetable for installation of PTC over the remaining 130,000 miles of track.

MINERAL SPRINGS, N.C. — CSX conductor Phillip E. Crawford Jr., 33, and locomotive engineer James Gregory Hadden, 36, were killed early May 24 in a rear-end collision here involving two CSX freight trains, according to news reports. Mineral Springs is some 30 miles south of Charlotte.

Crawford was a member of UTU Local 970, Abbeville, S.C. He signed on with CSX in October 2005.

Two crew members on the lead train, which was hit from the rear, suffered minor injuries, reported the Charlotte Observer.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration are investigating the North Carolina train collision, and a member of the UTU Transportation Safety Team is assisting the NTSB.

A CSX spokesperson told the Associated Press that the rear-end collision occurred on northbound tracks and involved one train enroute to Hamlet, N.C., from New Orleans, and another enroute to Charlotte from southern Georgia. Each train was pulled by two locomotives; one pulling nine freight cars, and the other 12, said CSX.

In Ft. Worth, a BNSF switch foreman and UTU Local 564 member, Paul Young, 28, with almost seven years’ service, lost both legs and an arm after being hit by a train in BNSF’s Alliance Terminal of May 23. Young, a resident of Haslet, Texas, reportedly was performing a gravity switch at an ethanol plant at the time of the accident.

WASHINGTON — Observing that her five-year-old soccer-mom van contains safety technology more advanced than is integrated into many motor coaches, National Transportation Safety Board Chairperson Deborah Hersman March 30 chided Congress and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for dragging their feet on bus safety legislation and regulation.

Hersman testified before the Senate Transportation Subcommittee that available technology, if installed on motor coaches, could prevent many accidents and save many more lives. NTSB recommendations to this end have been ignored by Congress and federal regulators for years, Hersman said.

Safety advocate Joan Claybrook, who previously chaired the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the subcommittee that the safety improvements advocated by the NTSB could be installed at the cost of five cents per bus ticket, based on annual bus ridership of about 750 million passengers.

Bus industry executives have been fighting for years to block mandated safety improvements, such as stronger roofs that won’t shear off or crush in accidents, and stronger windows, complaining the cost is too great.

Technology — such as electronic stability control to help prevent rollovers, cruise control that adjusts a vehicle’s speed to traffic conditions, and exits making it easier for passengers to escape after accidents — are examples of technology that exist “and it’s important that it be applied to the vehicles most in need of it,” Hersman testified.

The only safety improvements for motor coaches in the process of being mandated by the federal government are bans on texting while driving, the use of cellphones, installation of on-board recorders and installation of passenger seat belts — and even those rules have not be made final by regulators, the subcommittee was told.

The Department of Transportation testified that its attempt at requiring tougher driving training and testing standards have been challenged and blocked by courts. It has been more than six years since the DOT set out to redraft such rules.

Legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this month to require much of what the NSTB advocates; but previous attempts as passage of similar legislation failed to gain sufficient votes in Congress.

To read more about that legislation, click on the following link:

https://smart-union.org/news/bus-safety-bills-introduced-in-house-senate/

On the same day (Jan. 20) Union Pacific reported record fourth quarter and record calendar year 2010 profits, UP Chairman Jim Young said he is headed to Washington to meet with President Obama’s economic advisers to oppose a congressional mandate that railroads implement crash-avoidance positive train control by year-end 2015.

UP told investors its 2010 fourth quarter earnings had soared by 31 percent from the same quarter in 2009, and that its calendar year 2010 profit rose by 47 percent to a record $2.8 billion.

Twice during 2010, Union Pacific raised its common stock dividend, raising the dividend by 40 percent in 2010. Since 2001, the Union Pacific common stock dividend rate has been raised by 280 percent, for an average of 28 percent annually.

Young called 2010 the “most profitable year in Union Pacific’s nearly 150-year history.

“Economic indicators point to growth [in 2011], and if jobs improve, there will be even greater strength,” said Young, according to progressiverailroading.com. “The bar is raised, and last year the floor was set. We’re setting our sights even higher.”

UP repeated a previous announcement that it will increase its workforce by more than 4,000 in 2011 — an increase of almost 10 percent in its workforce — while bringing back the remainder of furloughed workers.

As for the Washington trip, in which Young said he will be joined by executives from other railroads, the Journal of Commerce reported that Young “strongly complained about the heavy expense of developing and deploying positive train control technology, which means outfitting locomotives with automated braking gear and tying it into trackside warning devices and other remote control systems.”

The railroads’ opposition to PTC — that its costs outweigh benefits — is disputed by independent studies, some commissioned by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The National Transportation Safety Board has long advocated implementation of PTC as a necessary safety overlay. The UTU and other rail labor organizations similarly support implementation of PTC.