UP's housing policy has Texas engineers sleeping in cars

Locomotive engineers who work for the Union Pacific Railroad in Texas have had trouble finding a place to lay their heads at night -- mainly because the railroad refuses to provide lodging.

When the engineers are sent hundreds of miles out of town to work, the railroad doesn't put them up in a hotel. Most can't afford to pay for a room in high-priced cities such as New Orleans, so they end up sleeping in their cars and pickup trucks.

The men are exhausted after a night or two, several members of the Grand International Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers told the Houston Chronicle newspaper in March. The GIA representatives gathered recently to complain about UP's lack of a housing policy.

"He is getting maybe three to four hours of sleep" in his pickup, said one wife, who asked not to be identified for fear her husband would lose his job for publicly criticizing the railroad.

"You can't rent an apartment because you're not sure if you'll be there two days or two months," said another.

When safety officials at the Federal Railroad Administration learned of the problem, they said they were concerned about the public health hazard and would investigate.

The GIA estimates that about two dozen engineers are routinely sleeping in their vehicles in the railroad's Houston region, which stretches from Brownsville to New Orleans.

It's happening all over Texas, said BLE General Chairman Gil Gore, whose UP territory covers workers in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Longview.

Gore said he and other BLE leaders have been trying to get the railroad to pay for 30 days of lodging since 1996. "They won't even entertain the idea," he said.

A fatigue expert was surprised UP would have employees sleeping in their vehicles. Darrel Drobnich, director of government and transportation affairs for the National Sleep Foundation, a non-profit organization in Washington, said not only is the back seat of a car too cramped, it's too noisy and isn't dark enough. Noise and light affect the quality of sleep, and consequently, how well you perform on the job the next day, he said.

 

2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers