BLE measure would improve rail safety in Pennsylvania
On March 12, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed legislation supported by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers to improve rail safety on the vast network of tracks that crisscross and flow through the Commonwealth.
The legislation was sponsored by State Rep. Mike Veon (D-Beaver Falls). Rep. Richard Geist (R-79), Chairman of the Pennsylvania Transportation Committee, also worked closely with the BLE and pushed for passage of the bill.
The bill's language deals with the unsafe practice of operating locomotives in "reverse" or backwards fashion. The bill also addresses the issues BLE raised over potential health concerns train crew members face when required to operate diesels backwards, creating heightened exposure to noxious diesel emissions.
According to BLE Pennsylvania State Legislative Board Chairman Ken Kertesz, the idea for this legislation was first developed by former BLE Pennsylvania State Chairman Norman Hendrickson, who retired in 2000.
"However, the Board continued to work hard to get where we got today," Brother Kertesz said.
He thanked Board officers Bob Sorg, Jim O'Neill, Dave Caniff and all the Division Legislative Representatives who assisted on the project.
"Last, but not least, Mabel Grotzinger, GIA Vice President, assisted us tremendously in getting this legislation the attention it deserved," Chairman Kertesz said.
Veon's measure (H.B. 1247) would prohibit large freight locomotives from operating in reverse or in the backup position on main and secondary lines. Exceptions include emergency situations, switching operations and passenger transportation. The bill passed the House 198-1, and it will now be referred to the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee for action.
"Operating a large freight in reverse forces engineers into a contorted position that keeps them from seeing instruments and gauges while facing the direction of movement and checking trackside signals, and it subjects them to the back draft of noxious fumes from the train's smoke stack," said Veon, who represents the 14th Legislative District.
Railroad companies may run trains backward over thousands of grade crossings for as long as 12 hours, endangering the public and causing undue fatigue on engineers. Moving in reverse, the crew could have as much as 75 feet of high-hood locomotive in front of them, reducing their ability to see cars or pedestrians on the crossings.
"Really, what these operators face is equivalent to what motorists would face if they were forced to drive their cars in reverse at a high rate of speed around curves and bends in the road over a long period of time," Veon said. "It is a risky situation that we need to fix for the state's 1,300 locomotive engineers."
Veon's bill would affect reverse operations that are common practice for larger freight trains used by companies such as CSX and Norfolk Southern, which together operate 90 percent of the freight in Pennsylvania. Smaller railroads and short lines would be exempt from the bill because they typically operate for short distances at relatively low speeds.
Veon's legislative district borders the Conway rail yard, Norfolk Southern's single largest rail classification yard, featuring an engineer training center and locomotive shop, among other facilities. A network of tracks extends from the yard and spreads throughout Beaver County as part of the northeast transportation system.
The Veon proposal was modeled after a similar measure in Maine, which now has a law in place to prohibit reverse operations for all trains.
© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers