A message from IBT General President James P. Hoffa
Security threat looms over nation's railroads
(The following letter to the editor by IBT General President James P. Hoffa was published in the January 26 issue of USA Today.)
In the wake of the tragic Graniteville, S.C., train accident that killed nine - the worst such accident since 1978 - Edward R. Hamburger, President of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), makes the claim in his editorial "Industry is Well Prepared" that the railroad industry has taken steps to enhance security. He touts the industry's cooperation with the federal government as evidence of improvement ("Industry is well prepared," Opposing view, Potential terrorism targets debate, Jan. 12)
Hamburger fails to mention that widespread security concerns for our nation's railroads have grown more dire since the attacks of September 11, 2001. While the federal government has implemented extensive safety and security measures in the aviation industry, it has left security on the railroads almost entirely up to rail corporations.
The Teamsters Union, which represents 70,000 locomotive engineers, trainmen and maintenance of way employees on every major U.S. rail line, has launched a "Safe Rails Secure America" campaign designed to address the very serious safety and security issues on the rails.
Unlike Hamberger and the AAR, the Teamsters do not believe that security on the nation's rail system has increased. In fact, our members report that rail yards, tracks, and equipment are routinely left unsecured; workers are not regularly advised of heightened terror alerts; and in most cases there are no certified engineers available to assist in case of an emergency or hijacking.
Hamberger's viewpoint downplays the potential for further disasters. The facts, though, are not so comforting:
Forty percent of U.S. rail lines, owned and operated by rail corporations, are in "dark territory," without electronic signals to help prevent accidents like the one in Graniteville.
The railroads, which are the nation's largest transporters of hazardous chemicals, carry about 90,000 shipments of chlorine across the U.S. each year. The Naval Research Lab says the breach of one chlorine tanker in a populated area could result in 100,000 deaths in 30 minutes.
The rail corporations have taken such drastic steps to cut costs that many now operate engines and freight cars in rail yards by remote control without trained professionals aboard to watch for and protect against accidents.
Our nation cannot accept blindly the assurances of a conflicted industry spokesperson nor leave responsibility for security on our nation's railroads to profit seeking corporations. The facts speak for themselves.
© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen