Runaway train a warning to employees, management

CLEVELAND, May 21 -- The following statement was issued by Edward Dubroski, International President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, in the aftermath of a runaway CSX locomotive in Northwest Ohio.

"Tragedy was narrowly averted on May 15 as dedicated rail employees were able to catch and halt a runaway CSX Transportation locomotive in Northwest Ohio. Three brave railroad workers -- a BLE locomotive engineer and two members of the United Transportation Union -- put their lives on the line to stop the wayward, unmanned freight train. The runaway train, however, should serve as a stark warning for rail workers and the rail industry.

"Railroad operating crews perform extraordinary safety-sensitive tasks not found in other industries, which require constant vigilance, as evidenced by the three heroic railroaders who halted the CSX runaway train. Unfortunately, our members often are faced with making split-second decision between two options, each with its own risks, and making the wrong choice can render all efforts to ensure safety futile; that's what happened here. Tuesday's runaway serves as a reminder to railroad workers that complex working conditions, which could lead to death or injury, can arise all too quickly in our industry.

"Rail managers also should take heed of this near disaster in Ohio. Dedicated employees were able to get CSX out of a bind. But as is the way of the railroads, we fully expect CSX management to blame -- and punish -- a dedicated employee with an exemplary service record for getting them into a bind. In fact, CSX officials have already told newspapers the worker -- a BLE member -- 'will be given undisclosed discipline.' The BLE, as it has done since 1863, will stand behind this Brother 100 percent and provide him with every form of representation necessary to protect his job and his family.

"Our members, and all railroad workers, put their lives on the line for the company each day. Unfortunately, safety only goes so far as management will allow it to go. Too often employees are fatigued on the job. Too often they go on duty without being allowed sufficient rest and with accumulated sleep deficits. Too often railroaders are harassed by management if they repeatedly request to lay off for needed rest.

"Too often, rail management pays only lip service to safety and saves the big bucks for its stockholders and millionaire executives. Over the years, these financial rewards have been generated, in part, by the elimination of redundant safety systems and reductions in crew size.

"The runaway locomotive was halted on May 15 -- the very day '60 Minutes II' exposed widespread track failures throughout the railroad industry. The in-depth report revealed that a train derails in the United States at a rate of one per day due to track failure. The worst offenders, according to 60 Minutes II, are CSX and Union Pacific. The report also exposed the fact that the industry's 'self-policing' style of reporting track conditions does not reflect the actual condition of the track. In other words, many railroads haven't been telling the truth. Based on the report's portrayal of the condition of the nation's railroad infrastructure, it also is clear that money has been going into the pockets of industry executives and Wall Street investors, rather than the safety of its employees and the American communities through which these trains operate.

"It's only a matter of time before this type of deception catches up to the industry, and the runway train in Ohio should serve as a wake-up call."

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May 21, 2001
bentley@ble.org

 

2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers