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At U.S. House hearing, BLET President Pierce testifies for two-person crews, asks Congress to block Mexican crews from operating in U.S.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, June 20 — Dennis Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and President of the Teamsters Rail Conference, urged members of Congress to support a national two-person crew law and asked them to block Mexican train crews from operating in the United States during a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives today.

Testifying before the House’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials at a hearing titled “The State of the Rail Workforce,” President Pierce also strongly condemned the practice of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) and the negative impact it has on rail worker safety. Throughout his testimony, President Pierce was highly critical of the Federal Railroad Administration’s failure to regulate railroad companies, which has led to the industry becoming less safe than it should be.

Pierce Condemns PSR

Even though railroad workers are more productive and efficient than ever before, an increasing number are being furloughed as the rail industry cuts to the bone and compromises safety in order to pursue increased profit margins under the moniker of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR).

“What is The State of the Rail Workforce? I unfortunately must report to you that — while rail worker productivity has never been better and Class I railroads have enjoyed multi-billion-dollar profits for many years — employment levels are headed in the other direction, with hundreds — if not thousands — of furloughs,” President Pierce said.

The PSR management style is neither precise nor scheduled, as President Pierce pointed out. It is impossible for rail workers to receive scheduled on-duty times or accurate train line-ups that predict work start times, which contributes to fatigue.

“[U]nfortunately, the quality of many Class I train lineups has become another victim of the PSR mentality,” President Pierce testified. “As a result, train crews are routinely called to go to work, unable to obtain meaningful rest, all because the employer-provided prediction for their next work shift was completely inaccurate. Put yourself in this proverbial Catch-22 — if I tell them I am too tired to work safely, I could be terminated. The days of this treatment must come to an end.”

He also condemned railroad company attendance policies, which are counterproductive to safety and do little to mitigate employee fatigue. “And many Carriers have implemented draconian attendance policies, forcing employees to report to work even when not fully rested due to poor predictability. Forcing employees to work fatigued in order to avoid discipline endangers both the workforce and the general public,” he said.

FRA Won’t Regulate

President Pierce said that the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated the FRA to implement fatigue mitigation regulations, but nothing has been done in that regard for more than a decade. Such fatigue mitigation regulations could have provided a useful tool in combating the industry’s PSR mentality, but the FRA still has not finalized a regulation on the RSIA mandate. President Pierce urged lawmakers to act instead. “Ironically, Congress mandated fatigue mitigation programs in 2008 — but FRA still hasn’t finalized that regulation. This Committee should act to ensure that meaningful steps are taken to mitigate fatigue as Congress commanded 11 years ago,” President Pierce said.

Excessive Train Lengths Caused by PSR

President Pierce also took the FRA to task for its refusal to take even the slightest interest in the longer and longer trains that have become a cornerstone of the PSR operating model. The ever-increasing use of Distributed Power (or “DP”) locomotive consists — where extra locomotives are placed in the middle and rear of trains and are controlled via telemetry from the head end — has led to longer and longer trains. In DP operations, a single locomotive engineer is charged with the responsibility of controlling and operating these longer and longer trains. Under PSR, however, train lengths have become so great that engineers are regularly losing communication with the rear of their trains, preventing them from making emergency brake applications in the event something goes wrong.

“This push for longer trains with fewer crews has reached a breaking point. The limits of telemetry that allows an engineer to control the rear of a train from the head end are being exceeded, and in-train communications losses are becoming commonplace. A blockage in a train’s brake system and a communications loss can have catastrophic results … yet FRA does nothing to address the situation,” President Pierce said.

Two-Person Train Crews

But the most significant public debate today is over the size of train crews. The industry argues that, in some cases, PTC has made the two-person crew redundant, and that a job should be eliminated. However, President Pierce testified that PTC is not designed or intended to prevent all accidents, and that PTC cannot prevent low speed collisions. Nor does it reduce the potential for accidents at highway/rail crossings caused by motorists who fail to yield to the train.

“In other words, PTC is not the silver bullet that some would have you believe,” Pierce testified.

He called out the FRA for failing to do its job and urged Congress to support a national two-person crew law.

“In spite of all of this, the industry’s safety regulator has again refused to regulate,” Pierce testified. “Although the previous Administration promulgated a rule making that would have required two crew members on many forms of freight service, the current Administration has withdrawn that rule making. In doing so, FRA has further attempted to ‘negatively preempt’ all State laws that make any effort to legislate crew size. For all of these reasons, and to ensure the safety of all rail workers, we strongly support H.R. 1748 — The Safe Freight Act of 2019 — which has been sponsored by Congressman Young and has over six dozen bipartisan cosponsors. We urge passage of this Bill by the House and the Senate, and that President Trump sign it into law.”

Mexican Crews Operating Inside the U.S.

President Pierce also touched upon the BLET’s ongoing dispute with the Kansas City Southern, which last year began using Mexican nationals to operate freight trains inside the United States for about nine miles inside along its Tex-Mex Railway subsidiary. The Mexican train crews are not held to the same engineer certification standards that U.S. train crews must maintain, which is a degradation of safety. After almost a year of inaction on the issue by the White House and the FRA, President Pierce said the BLET is seeking a law that says, “Trains originating in Mexico may only be operated in the United States by crews comprised entirely of citizens or nationals of the United States.”

In Conclusion

President Pierce concluded his testimony by praising all hard working locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. “Despite the difficulties I have talked about today, America’s rail workforce provides the best railroad transportation in the world,” he said.

Peter DeFazio (D-OR) serves as Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) serves as Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Additional witnesses at the June 20 hearing included: John Previsich, President, SMART Transportation Division; Jerry C. Boles, President, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; Andrew W. Sandberg, Assistant to the President, Directing General Chairman, IAM District Lodge 19; William Gonzalez, President, Amtrak Police Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee; Ronald L. Batory, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration; and Ian Jefferies, President & CEO, Association of American Railroads.

A copy of President Pierce’s written testimony is available on the BLET website.

Thursday, June 20, 2019
bentley@ble-t.org

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