Carriers working against needed rail security legislation

The Association of American Railroads has sent a letter to members of Congress urging them not to support H.R. 4372, the Rail Worker Emergency Training Act of 2005.

This bill, introduced by Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA), would mandate security training for railroad workers, and would address many of the concerns expressed by BLET members in the Safe Rails, Secure America surveys conducted by the Teamsters Rail Conference.

The AAR's letter states that "this legislation would mandate all rail carriers to provide extensive emergency training to a broad universe of rail employees." The AAR goes on to say that the rail security training currently provided by the railroads is adequate, even though both the survey conducted by the Rail Conference and studies by other groups indicate that rail security is woefully inadequate.

The AAR disputes the findings of the Safe Rails, Secure America survey. However, the Rail Conference survey documents vulnerabilities on America's railways and details shocking inattention to security by the nation's largest rail corporations. The report's conclusions are that the nation's rail system is vulnerable to terrorist attack, and the rail corporations have not taken seriously the safety of their employees and the public. A copy of the report is available on the BLET website.

H.R. 4372 would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish wide-ranging training guidelines that would address equipment inspection, hazardous materials storage, rail-yard access and a host of other issues.

The BLET recently held high-level meetings regarding the bill with Representative Peter T. King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. The BLET has also lobbied Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT), a key member of the House who serves on the House Subcommittee on Railroads (Transportation & Infrastructure Committee) and heads a terrorist intelligence subcommittee on the House Committee on Homeland Security.

H.R. 4372 also would require rail carriers to file specific training plans with the Homeland Security Department within a year, and face noncompliance fines if plans fall short of federal standards.

The railroads object to federal involvement in their security, even though other modes of transportation have welcomed government involvement in the process. The AAR states that they "oppose the institution of a federal approval process for the railroads' security process."

"As we have seen in the past, the railroad industry doesn't always do such a great job at holding itself accountable for the safety of its employees and the public," BLET National President Don M. Hahs said. "We have seen this evident repeatedly in the case of remote control technology, crew size reductions and lack of infrastructure investment - they are willing to put profits above the lives of people. The underlying and unspoken factor in their opposition to this legislation is that it would cost them money. And safety is a low priority when it comes to lining their pockets.

"The AAR wonders in its letter why railroad workers are singled out in this legislation. But they can find the answer right on their own website when they say: 'Railroads are the vital link to our economic future. More than 40 percent of all U.S. freight moves by rail - more than from any other single mode of transportation.' Rail workers need government involvement in their training simply because of their importance to the nation's economy and the types of goods that are moved by the rails.

"The government saw fit to single out railroad workers in 1926, with the enactment of the Railway Labor Act, which recognized that railroad workers were different than other workers and needed special regulations to govern their work.

"As I have said before, this bill goes a long way towards addressing the woeful lack of security training given to railroad workers. It recognizes that these men and women are our first line of defense against terror on the railroads and addresses the need for training, so this defense may be more effective."



© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen