BLE campaigns to stop remote controls

Nebraska legislation would allow remote control locomotives

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) announced on March 6 that it is mounting an all-out campaign to amend state legislation that would open the door for more railroad accidents, and cost the state hundreds of jobs and millions in lost tax revenue.

BLE International President Edward Dubroski said that his union, which represents the federally-certified workers who operate locomotive engines, would begin a concerted public education and lobbying campaign intended to alert the state legislature and Nebraska citizens about major flaws in L.B. 185 that threaten the public's safety.

"We are in favor of passing what has been called a 'Two-Person Crew' bill in Nebraska," said Dubroski. "But L.B. 185 as currently drafted is the most dangerous piece of legislation for the public, and for railroad workers, ever introduced in the Nebraska State Legislature."

Dubroski noted that the Nebraska AFL-CIO as well as the BLE, which represents thousands of locomotive engineers working on the Union Pacific Railroad, both oppose L.B. 185 as written. He said that the BLE "is asking every union member - both BLE and UTU - and every Nebraska citizen who cares about public safety to stand up and tell their state legislators that L.B. 185 is not acceptable in its current form."

"Not only is L.B. 185 a bill that creates the climate for more railroad accidents," said Dubroski, "but it would cost hundreds of younger railroad workers their jobs and reduce the total number of jobs in Nebraska. As written, L.B. 185 would open the door for dangerous remote control operations in terminals, and thereby open the door wider for more accidents, like the one in Blair. In addition, the current language ultimately will not require two persons to be on the train between terminals, because federal courts already have ruled such language as preempted by federal regulation, and thus will not help in preventing blocked crossings and crossing accidents."

On December 19, a runaway remote control locomotive in use at a Cargill manufacturing plant near Blair, Neb., derailed on the Union Pacific mainline, causing over $400,000 in damages. The locomotive and six cars derailed approximately 2,000 feet from the Cameron ditch, which empties into the Missouri River.

As an example of state legislation that protects the public and railroad workers against unsafe conditions, Dubroski pointed out a similar "Two-Person Crew" bill that passed the Wisconsin legislature last year.

"We believe the Nebraska bill should be written like the Wisconsin bill," said Dubroski. "That way both the public and railroad workers are protected. In Wisconsin, we worked with the UTU to do the right thing. This is not about a war between the BLE and UTU in Nebraska. Our differences as unions have no place in this argument. It's about doing what's right for locomotive engineers, conductors and trainmen, and protecting all of our jobs and safety."

Dubroski said that the grassroots campaign to amend L.B. 185 would be the BLE's top priority in Nebraska. He said BLE members would be asking UTU members to join with them in working to protect their jobs and safety.

"Belonging to one union or the other should never stand in the way of doing everything humanly possible to make sure we go home safe to our families every day," said Dubroski.

The BLE supports provisions of L.B. 185 that would require two-persons on a train. However, the union does not support language contained in the bill that has been ruled as preempted by federal regulations, or provisions that would allow the use of off-cab remote control locomotives in terminals and allow the use of one-person crews in terminals. Also, as written, L.B. 185 ultimately will not require two persons to be on the train between terminals, because federal courts already have ruled such language as preempted by federal regulations, and the bill widely defines terminals so that nearly any track may be considered a terminal track.

Dubroski said there should be "no use of remote control locomotives without Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations establishing the safest requirements possible, which the BLE believes should govern equipment specifications, inspection, repair, training and operating practices in the use of such devices."

Currently, an aggressive campaign by the manufacturers of remote control locomotive equipment is being targeted at U.S. rail carriers. Some carriers have already taken early steps to invest in remote control, which BLE views as a dangerous move without federal regulations in place to govern its use.

The FRA held a first of its kind Technical Conference on Remote Control Locomotives on July 19 of last year. Working jointly at the hearing, representatives from the BLE, the UTU and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and the United Steel Workers of America raised numerous concerns over the use of remote control.

Using documented evidence from the rail and steel industries, the unions were able to rebut the presentation made by proponents of remote control technology. Since then, however, the FRA has not addressed the situation to the satisfaction of the BLE, thus prompting the union to formally request a rulemaking process.

2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers