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Two-person crew bill becomes law in Washington State

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, April 1 — After more than seven years of hard work by the BLET’s Washington State Legislative Board and their counterparts within the SMART Transportation Division, a two-person crew bill was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee on March 27, 2020.

According to BLET Washington State Legislative Board Chairman Shahraim C. Allen, HB 1841 — Establishing Minimum Crews on Certain Trains — passed out of the Washington State House on a Concurrence Vote (64 yea-33 nay) on March 10, 2020. It was then signed by Madame Speaker Laurie Jinkins on March 11, 2020, for its finalization in the House. In its final review in the Senate, the additional signature of Lt. Governor / President Cyrus Habib was added on March 12, 2020.

“It was a team effort and I want to thank all who have supported our efforts over the last seven years,” Brother Allen said. “I especially want to thank our members who reached out to their legislators in Washington State. Our Organization’s State Legislative Boards, General Committees, mobilization teams and the guidance from the BLET National leadership helped to see us through to this day. With perseverance anything can and will be done.”

As written, the bill allows the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to “order railroad carriers to increase the number of railroad employees in areas of increased risk to the public, passengers, railroad employees, or the environment, or on specific trains, routes, or to switch assignments on their road with additional numbers of crewmembers, and may direct the placement of additional crewmembers, if it is determined that such an increase in staffing or the placement of additional crewmembers is necessary to protect the safety, health, and welfare of the public, passengers, or railroad employees, to prevent harm to the environment or to address site specific safety or security hazards.”

It has been a long journey, but Brother Allen said he and the members of his Board became more determined to fight for passage of the legislation each time the state legislature failed to act over the past seven years.

“Each year the stakes got higher,” he said. “It became imperative to hold the carriers accountable as they relentlessly turned a blind eye to safety. As we experienced year after year, their greed for higher profits became more and more insatiable to the point of compromising safety. It became abundantly clear that we had to make all aware of the railroads’ disregard for safe train operations and the risks involved.”

Brother Allen said great effort was spent over the last seven years building a coalition to support the two-person crew bill, which included first responders, organized labor, environmentalists, and the general public. In meeting with state legislators, Brother Allen would explain how train crews work in concert with one another, with available technologies, to anticipate problems and to prevent derailments from happening.

“Essentially, trains run through the communities in direct contact with the public. Every effort must be made to ensure these communities are not negatively impacted by the increased length of trains — up to two miles or more in length — as we operate through their backyards. Increased train length and over-reliance on technology senselessly pushes the limits of safety, which endangers everyone and puts our environment at risk. With additional eyes and personnel available, the risk is reduced. The implementation of technology alone is not the final answer or the ‘silver bullet’ fix to safety that railroad lobbyists would have everyone believe. It is the trained professionals in the cab — in concert with technology — who oversee and safeguard safe railroad operating practices. It is up to locomotive engineers and conductors to readily identify and correct problems — before they occur.”

To counter Rail Labor’s efforts, the railroad lobbyists did everything in their power to confuse legislators and stifle Rail Labor’s forward progress. But the BLET and SMART-TD stayed the course to educate state legislators about railroad safety.

“For the railroad corporate lobbyists, it was all about delay... to kick the can further down the road for another year, spending mass amounts of capital to game the legislative process,” he said. “Despite this fact, the game-changer was the joint actions performed daily, when educating our decision makers in elected offices, about the duties performed by train crew personnel. The legislators are voted into office by the people, for the people, and they make decisions on behalf of the people. We made sure their moral compasses were pointed in the correct direction. And in a great bipartisan effort, our bill became law, which is scheduled to take effect June 11, 2020.”

Washington becomes the most recent state to enact a two-person crew bill. In 2019, state governors in Illinois, Nevada and Colorado signed two-person crew bills in an effort to make train operations in their states as safe as possible.

“I wanted to thank Brother Shahraim C. Allen, the members of the Washington State Legislative Board, and all of our Brothers and Sisters throughout the great state of Washington for their collective efforts in securing passage of this much-needed safety legislation,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “It is my hope that additional states will follow in their footsteps.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020
bentley@ble-t.org

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