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PA rail security failures emphasized by S.C. train tragedy

(The BLETís Pennsylvania State Legislative Board issued the following news release on January 24.)

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- Nine people died, more than 250 were hospitalized and 5,400 citizens have just been allowed to return to their homes following Norfolk Southern's train wreck over two weeks ago, which ruptured a tanker car carrying toxic gas, spewing deadly chlorine vapors throughout a small South Carolina community.

"This kind of tragedy could easily happen in any community across Pennsylvania," Ken Kertesz, Chairman of Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) said. "The government in Washington, D.C. wants to re-route rail transport of chlorine gas around the city," he added. "Well wouldn't any community want to do the same thing to protect itself? Is there any difference between the people who work in Washington and the people who work in Pittsburgh?"

Kertesz says while the SC tragedy was an accident resulting from human error, "it doesn't take much imagination to see how hazardous material shipped by rail is a prime moving target for a potential terrorist attack. The destructive damage open to rail employees, passengers, first responders and the community is obvious."

"The top three deadly chemicals (chlorine, anhydrous ammonia and LP gas) are regularly hauled by trains travel through every large city and small community in Pennsylvania. We know mayors and township supervisors are concerned, because we receive calls from these folks wanting to know what is going through their backyards."

Kertesz and his union have been working for two years on rail security legislation to improve the situation in Pennsylvania, but he says, "virtually nothing has been done" to improve rail security here. We haven't seen any changes in operations, training or equipment to handle hazardous materials accidents.

"It is not the first responsibility of the Federal Government, or U.S. Congress, to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania," said John Tolman of the BLET Washington Government Affairs office. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently rolled out his department's National Response Plan, which directs local and state officials to manage incidents unless and until they become overwhelmed.

According to Kertesz the one bill introduced during the last legislative session that could have started the process of improving security for millions of rail passengers, shippers, and PA communities, failed to move out of the House and Senate Transportation Committees.

"It is the prime responsibility of every elected official in this state to make sure that our rail system is secure and that every possible measure has been taken to insure the safe transport of deadly materials through every community in PA."

Kertesz says that the transportation unions will convene in Harrisburg next month to address the issue of transportation safety and security in Pennsylvania. "The security of the Commonwealth's transportation system is just too important to all of us to be left in the hands of the Senate Transportation Committee," Kertesz said. "We're meeting to prepare a report to be submitted to all local and county officials across Pennsylvania."

In addition to a statewide coalition to address rail and transportation security, Kertesz said regional BLET unions have formed a task force representing workers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. They will be visiting Harrisburg in the near future to review a Keystone Corridor Rail Security plan.

Founded on May 8, 1863, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is the senior rail labor organization in North America. This past December, the BLET merged with the Teamsters to work together on transportation security issues.

For more information regarding this news release, please contact Nathan Pigott at 717-975-2148 or npigott@hersheyphilbin.com.


*Note a partial list of unions attending the BLET Transportation meeting as part of the AFL-CIO's January annual meeting in Hershey, PA includes:

Railroad Unions:

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE)

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers

National Conference of Firemen and Oilers (NFCO/SEIU)

Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE)

Sheet Metal Workers' International Association

Brotherhood of Railroad Signalman (BRS)

Transportation Communications Union (TCU)

International Association of Machinists (IAM)

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)

International Transport Workers' Federation

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

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