Leaders of the nation's major freight railroads and the United Transportation Union entered into an agreement to operate locomotives by remote control in late 2001, and began the implementation of "pilot projects" using the new technology in the Spring of 2002.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, which represents the craft of employees federally licensed to move and operate locomotives in the United States, protested the agreement as a violation of its collective bargaining agreements and long-standing established practices. The BLE also threatened to strike over this issue.
The nation's freight railroads sued the BLE and obtained an injunction from a federal judge, which prohibits the BLE from striking over this issue. In addition, the judge also ruled that the question of whether locomotive engineers or trainmen should operate the remote control technology was a "minor dispute" as defined by the Railway Labor Act. As a result, the judge remanded the dispute to arbitration.
The BLE participated in a three-way arbitration hearing with the UTU and the nation's railroads in late 2002. Each party to the arbitration submitted a question regarding the issue, and the BLE submission read, "The assignment of other than locomotive engineers to operate locomotives via remote control in connection with the movement of cars, trains and/or engines in terminal operations is a violation of the exclusive rights of locomotive engineers to perform such service pursuant to existing BLE Agreements and established practice."
Arbitrator Gil Vernon, Chairman of Special Board of Adjustment No. 1141, issued his decision on January 10, 2003. His ruling was detrimental to the BLE.
BLE International President Don Hahs expressed outrage at Vernon's decision, which upheld the assignment of remote control jobs to a newly created position known as "remote control operator," instead of professional locomotive engineers. President Hahs predicted that between 4,000 and 5,000 members of the United Transportation Union could lose their jobs due to the implementation of remote control trains.
"First and foremost, the decision creates serious safety concerns for railroad employees and the general public," President Hahs said. "Trains carrying nuclear waste and other hazardous materials will now be operated -- at least in terminal operations -- by employees who have as little as 80 hours of training."
Since the implementation of remote control pilot projects in early 2002, the BLE has kept track of numerous accidents and incidents involving remote control locomotives. Also, more than 35 communities throughout the United States have passed safety resolutions concerning the operation of remote control locomotives within their jurisdiction.
For more information on remote control accidents, please visit:
For more information on remote control safety resolutions, please visit:
Documentation on Canadian RCL experience
Go to simple search page on the
Deptartment of Transportation web site and enter 7325 for the Docket Number. There are over 600 pages compiled
by the UTU on problems with the Canadian RCLs.