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Report cites need for quality hazmat training for rail workers

(The International Brotherhood of Teamsters issued the following news release on November 15.)

WASHINGTON -- The Citizens for Rail Safety (CRS) today released a new report on the state of hazmat training for rail employees. A need for quality training was the main conclusion of the report that cited the shortcomings of current training programs provided by rail corporations.

The CRS sponsored a panel discussion about the report and panelists included: John Tolman, National Legislative Representative and Vice President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET); Thomas Williams, the mayor of Norwood, Ohio; Rick Inclima, Director of Safety and Education of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWED); and Wendell Davis, of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAF). Before the panel discussion, guest speakers Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA) spoke about rail security and safety issues and the importance of training.

"We need security plans and security training for rail employees," said Rep. Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House's Homeland Security committee. "It baffles me why the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has failed to act. We need to ensure our rail workers get the training they need."

The report, written by the National Labor College (NLC) of the George Meany Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, outlines the ingredients for quality training programs. For instance, the hazardous materials training course given by the National Labor College often lasts five days and is taught by peer instructors. This is in sharp contrast to the safety pamphlets and videotapes that some rail corporations have supplied to their employees.

"We've trained over 20,000 rail employees across the United States," said Brenda Cantrell, director of the hazardous materials training program at the NLC. "Often our students tell us how they learn more about hazardous materials in the first few hours of our class than they do after years of working on the rails."

Tolman gave an overview of how the new Democratic leadership in the House and Senate will likely take action on rail security next year. "This year, with the 109th Congress, regulations were passed that were only voluntary. A voluntary system of safety and security regulations for the rails is not going to get us where we want to go." He added that once the 110th Congress convenes in January 2007, concrete action toward mandatory enforcement of safety and security regulations must be taken.

"The most critical time after any rail accident is the first few minutes," Tolman said. "We are always the first responders in those situations and we need to have quality training in order to know how to respond and save lives."

"Rail employees should have the same level of training as fire fighters so that they know about the risks and know how to handle toxic chemicals in emergency situations," Davis said.

"More than 80 percent of our members reported to us in our 'High Alert' report that they have not had additional security or terrorism training," Inclima said. "Our data was from the first-ever employee survey of engineers, trainmen and maintenance of way workers. And the data was broadly based-from 46 states and 34 different railroads."

"Our members are an untapped resource," Inclima said. "We need to ensure that rail employees and other first responders, such as firefighters, collaborate in emergencies. Our members are going to know best about how to approach a rail tunnel or rail yard and they can be an invaluable resource to all first responders."

The members of the BMWED and the BLET comprise the membership of the Teamsters Rail Conference, a part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, representing 1.4 million hardworking men and women in the United States and Canada.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

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