BLET, UTU warn of rail safety concerns

CLEVELAND, January 31 — Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) President Don M. Hahs and United Transportation Union (UTU) President Paul C. Thompson issued the following outline describing joint concerns over railroad attempts to compromise public safety and security by reducing crew size on the nation's railroads:

Railroading is one of the most dangerous occupations in North America

  • Rail-related injuries typically result in amputations, other career-ending injuries and death.

  • Over past three years, train collisions increased by more than 42 percent, according to Federal Railroad Administration data

  • Also over past three years, employee fatalities are up by 17 percent.

  • For period January-September 2005 (9 months), the FRA says there were more than 2,200 train accidents, some 1,200 yard accidents, 1,655 train derailments and 21 rail-employee fatalities.

  • Additionally, more than 350 private citizens die annually in accidents at highway-rail grade crossings.

  • This deterioration in safety statistics is NOT the result of more business on the rails, because the FRA “normalizes” these data based on millions of train miles.

  • Every major railroad – BNSF, CSX, KCS, NS and UP – has posted an increased in train accidents over past three years.

    Railroads haul some of the most deadly of hazardous materials

  • Railroads haul deadly chemicals such as chlorine, nuclear weapons and nuclear waste – all targets of terrorists and all deadly to large areas of every community through which these chemicals travel on trains.

  • Terrorists have targeted railroads in foreign countries (bombings in Madrid, Spain) and have threatened to do so in the United States. Having at least two people on the train enhances the number of eyes and ears on the front lines for the benefit of homeland security.

  • Positive Train Control may or may not be effective in improving rail safety

  • We don’t know because PTC is in the experimental stage

  • PTC is operating under special waivers from the FRA over just a few hundred miles of track. There are about 1700,000 miles of rail track in the U.S.

  • Not only is PTC experimental, but there are thousands of miles of track in the United States today that are considered “dark territory,” which is no more technologically advanced than railroad tracks were in the 1800s.

  • Where PTC is being tested, such as BNSF’s Beardstown subdivision in Illinois, the technology’s failure rate is significant. One third of tests of PTC there have resulted in an unintentional application of brakes indicating a system failure of some sort.

  • Carrier operating officers have told the National Transportation Safety Board that implementation of PTC on any wide-scale is 7 to 10 years away. The costs are enormous – some $7 billion – and no railroad has indicated to its stockholders that it is embarking on such a capital expense in the near future. PTC remains an experimental technology.

    Railroads want to reduce train crews without adding new technology

  • Railroads have told Wall Street analysts that they want to take advantage of a sudden and sharp increase in retirements by not hiring replacements for these train & engine service employees.

  • Railroads predict tens of millions of dollars in savings by not hiring and reducing crew size to one person, who would not have benefit of PTC and who would also be required to leave the train to operate remote control in switching operations and tend to unexpected mechanical problems.

    The danger of reduced crews is primarily from fatigue

  • Noted sleep scientist Dr. William Dement, director of Stanford University's Sleep Disorders Research Center, compared going to work fatigued with going to work drunk. Fatigue impairs the motor skills, concentration, and response time of train crew members.

  • Fatigue already is a severe problem in the railroad industry. Insufficient train crews require railroads to demand employees work up to 30 days without rest periods. It is not uncommon for train & engine service employees not to receive even six hours of uninterrupted sleep daily.

  • Fatigue is most often cited by the National Transportation Safety Board as a contributing factor in railroad accidents.

    One person crews sought by the carriers are a prescription for disaster

  • Trains operating through populated areas and carrying deadly hazmat and considered a target of terrorists should not be permitted to operate with only a single person aboard.

  • Medical emergencies, the need for restroom breaks and meal periods all put trains, their contents and communities at risk when there is but a single person aboard to operate and monitor the train and remain in radio contact with dispatchers and nearby emergency responders.

  • Railroads transport deadly hazmat on tracks that are within blocks of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Train tracks are located in the heart of major population centers and trains carrying hazmat travel next to hospitals and schools.

    A Federal Railroad Administration study of reduced crews is needed

  • Before Congress allows carriers to turn current labor negotiations into a congressional plebiscite on reduced-crew size, a Federal Railroad Administration study into the safety concerns of reduced crews is essential.

    Tuesday, January 31, 2006

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