BLE outraged at remote control decision
Widespread job loss, reduced safety will result, BLE says
A decision issued on January 10 by Arbitrator Gil Vernon, Chairman of Special Board of Adjustment No. 1141, opens the door to the nationwide operation of unmanned remote control trains, a controversial practice that could compromise safety and lead to widespread job losses.
BLE International President Don Hahs expressed outrage at Vernon's decision, which upholds the assignment of remote control jobs to a newly created position known as "remote control operator," instead of professional locomotive engineers. President Hahs predicted that between 4,000 and 5,000 members of the United Transportation Union could lose their jobs due to the implementation of remote control trains.
"First and foremost, the decision creates serious safety concerns for railroad employees and the general public," President Hahs said. "Trains carrying nuclear waste and other hazardous materials will now be operated - at least in terminal operations - by employees who have as little as 80 hours of training.
"Secondly, the decision violates more than 150 years of established practice, ignoring Federally certified locomotive engineers as the only craft responsible for moving and operating trains. The decision also fails to recognize current collective bargaining agreements, local and national agreements, and years of past practice."
President Hahs also expressed concern that the actions of the Federal Railroad Administration - the nation's rail safety watchdog - contributed to the magnitude of today's decision by failing in its duty to protect public safety and the safety of railroad employees.
"In essence, the FRA circumvented its own regulations - 49 CFR Part 240 - by creating a deskilled engine craft (remote control operator)," he said.
In addition, the FRA has failed to adopt enforceable federal regulations to govern the operation of remote control trains. As of today, it has only issued recommended guidelines to cover limited operations.
The BLE President also charged that over the past three decades, the United Transportation Union and railroad management have conspired to eliminate numerous railroad positions, usually through attrition and sharing of the savings.
"Today's decision is illogical and does not conform to years of established practice," he said. "The UTU's 1985 national agreement, which provides for the forced promotion to locomotive engineer, established the precedent of engineer as the prevailing craft. Eighteen years later, the carriers and UTU have collaborated to change this scenario for self-serving reasons, thereby denying the very people they forced to take promotion access to the remote control work."
President Hahs stressed that while the loss of engineer jobs is important, the public should be gravely concerned about their safety now that lesser trained and lesser qualified operators will be running trains by questionable remote technology.
"The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers will continue to press for adequate training of remote control operators, who will now begin handling carloads of spent nuclear waste and other deadly substances. Citizens should also be concerned about the remote control technology itself because it is not totally reliable. Any piece of equipment, like the remote control devices, will malfunction at some point. No matter how reliable they are, they will fail.
"More than 30 accidents and derailments involving remote control were reported to the BLE in the past 11 months, and I believe it is not the fault of the employees. These workers have not received adequate training prior to being thrown to the wolves. This situation is a ticking time bomb.
"Since September 25, four U.S. cities - Baton Rouge, La., Shreveport, La., Detroit, Mich., and Marysville, Mich., - have cited safety concerns in the adoption of resolutions banning remote control operations and/or calling upon the Federal Railroad Administration to adopt enforceable regulations to govern the use of the technology," he said.
In addition to safety concerns, these city councils cited the threat of terrorist attacks that specifically targeted U.S. railroads as one of the reasons for banning remote control trains. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued this terrorist warning to U.S. railroads on October 22. Several other cities are considering similar measures.
"It is my belief that in order to ensure safety, each remote control assignment should have at least one federally certified locomotive engineer as a member of the crew."
President Hahs said today's ruling marked a sad day for railroad operating employees.
"The bottom line is that the biggest losers, unfortunately, are the very members both organizations represent," he said. "The BLE and UTU will lose one job on every assignment - period - for payment of one hour and 32 minutes. There are no winners today as far as operating crews are concerned. The winners are rail management and the manufacturers of remote control devices."
President Hahs will promptly set up urgent meetings with the FRA and the National Carriers Conference Committee to press for resolution of BLE's safety concerns and other issues regarding this matter.
A copy of the January 10 ruling is available on the BLE website at: http://www.ble.org/pr/pdf/rco011003.pdf
For a list of recent remote control accidents and othe rinformation, please see: http://www.ble.org/remotecontrol.
© 2003 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers