UTU misses the mark on remote control safety

It is apparent -- once again -- that the United Transportation Union has missed the mark when it comes to remote control.

The UTU's Legislative Director from North Dakota recently testified against a BLET safety resolution regarding remote control locomotives before the North Dakota Senate Transportation Committee. His testimony was posted on the UTU's website under the headline, "Straight talk about remote control." The author boasts that remote control has "virtually nothing to do with safety," insisting that it is only a jobs issue.

From the BLET perspective, remote control is an issue of safety - pure and simple.

"When there is a remote control amputation, death, or hazmat spill in North Dakota, I would like to see the UTU and the BNSF come here and tell the victim's family that remote control is only about jobs, not safety," said BLET North Dakota State Legislative Board Chairman Mike Muscha.

Since the widespread implementation of remote control in 2002, the number of yard accidents on our nation's railroads have increased markedly, according to statistics obtained from the Federal Railroad Administration's Office of Safety. In 2002, there were 984 yard accidents. In 2003, there were 1,089, which is an increase of nine percent. In 2004, there were 1,121, which is an increase of 9.7 percent from the previous year.

"Safety is, was, and always will be our top priority regarding remote control locomotives," said BLET National President Don Hahs. "The UTU, FRA and the carriers have allowed RCOs into the industry, and it is our members who are paying the price with injuries, amputations and deaths. Since allowing remotes into the industry, UTU leaders have done little to improve the safety of the operations. Instead, they have spent the majority of their time playing political games and spin-doctoring their way out of a no-win situation. It would be a refreshing change to see UTU leaders fight for the safety of their members instead of making excuses for selling them out."

The Brotherhood was the first railroad union to petition the FRA for a remote control rulemaking, doing so in a letter dated November 17, 1999. This action is evidence that the Brotherhood's top concern is the safety of employees operating trains by remote control.

"Before the UTU began playing its political games and making backdoor deals with the carriers, the Brotherhood was on record seeking the safest way to implement the new technology," BLET National President Don Hahs said. "We did not seek to stop the implementation of remote control, as the UTU spin doctors would like you to believe. We petitioned the FRA for a rulemaking that would allow for the implementation of remote control in a safe, regulated environment."

However, the carriers, the FRA and the UTU teamed up to allow remote control to be implemented with simple guidelines and unenforceable regulations.

"It is astounding to allow this technology to be used without a rulemaking procedure and without enforceable federal regulations," said President Hahs. "We need a regulation that provides for the safety of the public and all railroad workers. We don't need the games that are being played now - such as calling this a jobs issue. No BLET member is without a job as a result of the implementation of remote control. It is mostly the jobs of UTU members that have been lost. Plain and simple - it's about safety.

"A rulemaking would not stop or impede the implementation of RCO," President Hahs continued. "It would not adversely effect the movement of rail cars. It would just make those movement safer.

"It's about safety," President Hahs concluded. "Period."



© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen