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BLET Fighting to Protect Worker, Public Safety in Rulemaking

Statement by National President Dennis R. Pierce

CLEVELAND, April 11 — Dennis Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a Division of the Teamsters Rail Conference, issued the following statement concerning the April 9 announcement by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that the agency planned to issue a proposed rule regarding railroad industry crew size:

“Since the FRA’s announcement on Wednesday of plans to issue a proposed regulation regarding crew size on America’s freight and passenger trains, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has received numerous requests for comments. While it is not our practice to publicly comment on a pending rulemaking — and although no substantive comment can be made on FRA’s proposal, which has yet to be published — recent attempts by the industry’s lobbying arm to change the debate compel me to respond.

“It is undeniable that last summer’s catastrophic runaway, derailment and explosion that devastated the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic was facilitated, if not directly caused, by operational adjustments that had to be made by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway’s decision to operate the runaway train with a single-person crew. The outrage over that tragedy led to numerous regulatory changes in Canada and here in the United States to enhance railroad safety.

“The Congress has taken notice of this crisis, as well, and the Safe Freight Act (H.R. 3040), which would require a two-person crew on virtually all freight trains, is pending before the House of Representatives. We applaud the legislators who introduced that bill, and we are working toward its passage.

“FRA also has made its position clear. We agree with Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo that ‘safety is enhanced with the use of a multiple person crew’ and with the agency’s position that ‘a second crew member provides safety redundancy and provides a method of checks and balances on train operations.’ Safety is our goal, and FRA’s goal, in supporting a minimum crew size of two employees. Each and every day when our members go to work, their goal is to perform their jobs in the safest and most professional manner possible. BLET members are honest and dedicated working class Americans, and working as part of a two-person train crew will give them a better chance of returning home to their families and loved ones at the end of the day.

“Unfortunately, however, the rail industry seems hell-bent on hijacking this issue and converting it into a process to further pad its already historic profit levels. From the day FRA placed crew size before its Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, the railroads have attempted to hold the issue hostage to the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology, a stance that was publicly confirmed by the Association of American Railroads earlier this week. PTC is a necessity as it will save lives, but it should never be the basis for a waiver of the two-person train crew requirement, which — sadly — is what rail management is hoping to achieve.

“To be clear, PTC is a significant upgrade and overlay on existing signal and train control technology. It will save lives and reduce accidents and property damage. For these reasons it can and must be installed by the December 31, 2015 deadline Congress has set, and we will continue to oppose the industry’s request for a blanket 5-year extension of the deadline.

“However, at the end of the day — and while significant — PTC is only an upgrade and overlay on existing signal technology. It is not designed or required to prevent every accident. As just one example, the April 17, 2011 collision near Red Oak, Iowa, that led to a derailment and fire, and which claimed the lives of two crew members, would not have been prevented had PTC been installed on the line where the accident occurred.

“Nor is PTC designed or intended to perform all of the varied duties currently performed by the second operating crew member. In addition to in-cab safety redundancy at numerous levels, the public safety aspect of these duties include, among others, monitoring the ‘left’ side of the train for defects, observing the ‘left’ side of highway-rail grade crossings for drivers who fail to stop for the approaching train, and separating stopped trains blocking crossings to facilitate the movement of motor vehicles operated by first responders and other emergency personnel who must cross the tracks.

“The industry’s response is nothing more than a red herring, and it is unfortunate — if not reprehensible — that railroads are preying upon the legitimate safety concerns of railroad workers and the general public to further stuff their coffers. We also view the railroads’ response as a thinly-veiled threat against collective bargaining agreement provisions that address crew size, which would be unaffected by the proposed regulation, and which we will vigorously defend. We will continue to put the safety of BLET members, of all railroad workers, and of the American public first and foremost, and we will work with all our energy to ensure FRA develops a regulation that does just that.”

Friday, April 11, 2014
bentley@ble-t.org

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