Sweeping rail safety bill introduced in Congress

Rail Labor is united in support of the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007, a bill that would provide sweeping reforms to railroad safety regulations and vastly improve the quality of life for all railroad workers.

The bill, H.R. 2095, was introduced on May 1 by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, following lengthy consultation with supportive rail unions.

Among the bill's many provisions are:

"Jim Oberstar is a friend of Rail Labor who has worked closely with us to formulate this much needed legislation," said Don Hahs, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). "Many of the items contained in this sweeping legislation have been on Rail Labor's most-wanted list for many years, and all of Rail Labor is united in solidarity to show the carriers that we mean business."

Rail Labor is united in its support of this measure, including: BLET and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED), both members of the Teamsters Rail Conference; United Transportation Union; Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS); and the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA).

"There is strength in numbers," said Fred Simpson, President of the BMWED. "Not only do we have the strength of Rail Labor solidarity, we have the strength of a pro-labor majority in the House and Senate to support our cause."

Dan Pickett, President of the BRS said: "The BRS is proud to be a part of this effort. The changes proposed by Chairman Oberstar are long overdue and the BRS with all Rail Labor will work to see the changes become a reality."

ATDA President Leo McCann said: "One Rail Labor union would not have been able to do this alone. Our solidarity sends the message loud and clear that we are united and we are serious about putting an end to carrier mistreatment of our hard-working union members."

The bill would redesignate the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as the Federal Railroad Safety Administration (FRSA), whose goal would be to reduce accidents, injuries and fatalities with safety as its "highest priority." The FRSA Administrator would be required to have "professional experience in railroad safety, hazardous materials safety, or other transportation safety." The FRSA would also be required to double the number of safety inspectors from 400 to 800 by Dec. 31, 2011.

Limbo time, the practice of abandoning train crews on locomotives after their on-duty time has expired, would be eliminated under changes to the Hours of Service Act. Under the new law, time spent in deadhead transportation to a duty assignment, time spent waiting for deadhead transportation, and time spent in deadhead transportation from a duty assignment to the place of final release would be considered time on duty, thus eliminating limbo time.

Additional direct relief from fatigue would come in two forms. First, operating and signal employees would be entitled to a minimum of 10 hours undisturbed rest, regardless of the length of the duty tour. Railroads would be prohibited from communicating with their workers during their rest time. Second, they would have to have one period of at least 24 consecutive hours off duty every seven days.

Railroads would also be required to file a fatigue management plan with the Department of Transportation every two years. The bill would require input from Rail Labor into the plans, which would contain educational programs to help rail workers counter fatigue.

The legislation would significantly strengthen existing whistleblower protections to rail workers who report unsafe or hazardous conditions. A worker may refuse to authorize the use of equipment the employee reasonably believes to be unsafe or hazardous to operate or work with, and this bill would protect those who do so.

Class I railroads would have 12 months after enactment of the legislation to submit concrete plans for the implementation of positive train control. The technology would be used to assist train crews with safety, and not as a means to reduce crew size.

The bill would also require railroads to install warning devices in non-signaled territory that would warn train crews of misaligned switches, thereby addressing the greatest risks of dark territory operations.

The Secretary of Transportation would be required to establish minimum training standards for each craft of rail employees under the new law. The bill would require railroads to qualify or otherwise document the proficiency of their employees in each craft regarding their knowledge of, and ability to comply with, Federal railroad safety laws and regulations and railroad carrier rules. Each railroad would also establish its own training and qualification program, which would be submitted to the FRSA for approval.

The Secretary of Transportation would also be required to prescribe regulations and issue orders to establish a program requiring the certification of train conductors. In prescribing such regulations, the Secretary would require that conductors on passenger trains be trained in security, first aid, and emergency preparedness.

The Secretary of Transportation would also establish regulations that require railroads to provide emergency escape breathing apparatus for all crewmembers on freight trains carrying hazardous materials that would pose an inhalation hazard in the event of release; and provide their crewmembers with appropriate training for using the breathing apparatus.

The Secretary of Transportation would also transmit to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate, a report on the effects of the locomotive cab environment on the safety, health, and performance of train crews.

Also under this proposed legislation, railroads would not be allowed to discipline, or threaten discipline to, an employee for requesting medical or first aid treatment, or for following orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician. Discipline means to bring charges against a person in a disciplinary proceeding, suspend, terminate, place on probation, or make note of reprimand on an employee's record.

A hearing on the bill by the House Subcommittee on Railroads was held on May 8.

All Rail Labor members are asked to contact their members of Congress to support H.R. 2095, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007:

http://www.house.gov
Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

 

 

 

© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen