BLET testifies before Congress on railroad security

Representatives of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen were key witnesses during two days of hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives regarding H.R. 1269, the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007.

Edward Rodzwicz, First Vice President of the BLET and President of the Teamsters Rail Conference, and John Tolman, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative, testified at the hearings on March 6 and 7.

"The BLET has participated in five Congressional hearings regarding much-needed railroad security improvements in the first three months of 2007," said Don M. Hahs, BLET National President. "It's a sign of our organization's growing influence on Capitol Hill through the Teamsters Rail Conference as well as our Election Day victory in November when we helped elect a labor-friendly Congress."

Including the testimony delivered on March 6 and 7, the BLET and its Rail Conference representatives have given key testimony at Congressional hearings on January 31 and twice on February 13, for a grand total of five.

First Vice President Rodzwicz testified before the Homeland Security Committee on March 6. In his testimony, he addressed worker training, whistleblower protections, hazardous materials training and positive train control.

"Rail Labor has taken every opportunity since 9/11 to advocate for strong security legislation for the railroad industry, and we are pleased to see that you have listened to what we have said," Rodzwicz said. "The bill addresses many of the issues we have raised over the past 5 and a half years."

One of the issues mentioned in the bill was security research and development, including positive train control.

"As to communication-based train controls - and as you know - a major controversy arose last year when the industry attempted to 'game' the legal and political processes in order to eliminate a crewmember on road freight trains via implementation of positive train control systems," Rodzwicz testified. "Federal support for (research and development) efforts to enhance security via communication-based train control systems, in order to, for example, utilize positive train control as a means of instantly locating a car carrying toxic-by-inhalation material is an effort we would endorse. However, we oppose, and caution the Committee not to permit DHS to become ensnared in, federally-funded R&D efforts that facilitate the efforts of those who advocate crew size reduction."

Rodzwicz gave his strongest support for the whistleblower protections in the bill.

"These protections are absolutely necessary in order for our members to feel comfortable in the security environment this bill will create throughout the industry," Rodzwicz said. "The proposed language strikes an appropriate balance between legitimate security needs and worker protection. The provisions for potentially stiff damages and recourse to the judicial system also are needed in view of the potential of liability for civil penalties, and we urge the Committee to stand fast on requiring a single process for all modes in providing these protections."

Vice President Tolman also testified about the issue of worker training and whistleblower protections, along with re-routing of hazardous materials and the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on March 7.

Worker training is one area of grave concern for rail employees and the BLET.

"Locomotive engineers, trainmen and track maintenance workers are the true first responders to rail emergencies - the eyes and ears of the industry," Tolman said. "They are the first on the scene, and often the last to leave. Yet, the rail corporations do not have quality safety and security training for employees in place. That failure places these first responders in harm's way, and by extension puts the communities served by the railroads in harm's way as well."

The need for proper training is more important now than ever before because of the high turnover rate of employees in the industry.

"Rail security measures have not been given the attention they deserve," Tolman said. "The railroad industry is in the midst of a rapid turnover- fueled by the first wave of retirements of Baby Boomer generation railroad workers - that strains the industry's training programs for all crafts. The industry simply does not devote sufficient resources either to providing initial training for new workers or for periodic recurrent training for more experienced workers. Far too often, training schedules are dictated by the need to deploy new workers in the field, rather than ensuring that those workers, and their more senior co-workers, have the necessary tools to work safely and efficiently."

He asked that the Congress pass legislation that will compel rail corporations to train their employees on proper safety and evacuation procedures; the use of appropriate emergency escape apparatus; the special handling of hazardous materials; and the roles and responsibilities of rail employees within the railroad's security plans, including an understanding of the plan's threat level index and notification to employees each time the threat level is changed.

Representative James L. Oberstar (D-MN), the Chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, introduced H.R. 1269. The bill currently has two co-sponsors, Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

Representative Oberstar said his bill would provide the resources to protect modes of transportation that have become terrorist targets around the world.

"Tragically, transit and rail systems have long been popular targets of terrorist attacks worldwide," Representative Oberstar said. "From 1991 to 2001, 42 percent of all terrorist incidents were carried out on rail systems or buses. Recent tragic events show that these threats continue."

A copy of the bill is available online at:

http://transportation.house.gov/News/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=89

 

 

© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen