Update on Railroad Retirement
CLEVELAND -- As this issue of the Newsletter went to press, there was nothing concrete to report on proposed legislation to reform Railroad Retirement.
Several rail unions have confirmed that portions of the proposed legislation are being redrafted to address the objections of Republican leaders of the House Ways & Means Committee.
Based on recent reporting by the TCU and UTU, it appears that the revised proposal would allow private investment of Tier I funds to the same extent that they may be invested in government securities under current law.
However, it is impossible to confirm the status of changes to the bill at this time as negotiations are shrouded in secrecy, with only those who supported the original measure having access to the latest draft of the bill. Visit the BLE website for updates on this issue.
TTD celebrates 10th anniversary at annual convention
WASHINGTON -- The AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a convention running from July 19-21 in Washington, D.C.
BLE President Edward Dubroski will head up the BLE delegation.
Tentative speakers include TTD President Sonny Hall; Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle; Rep. Don Young; House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt; AFL-CIO President John Sweeney; Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater; Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.); AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka; and U.S. Vice-President Al Gore.
Among the business that TTD delegates plan to conduct is the adoption of Convention Rules, election of officers; resolutions; and reports from each of the various committees.
BLE releases online training video
CLEVELAND -- The BLE has made available the first in a series of online training videos. The first video, a 23-minute presentation titled "Locomotive Inspection," can be viewed by anyone with Windows Media Player.
The BLE is the first railroad labor union in North America to provide such videos on its website. The videos are available to anyone, regardless of craft or union affiliation. The BLE website address is: http://www.ble.org.
NTSB investigates Eunice, La. derailment of UP train
WASHINGTON -- The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the May 27 derailment of a Union Pacific freight train and subsequent release of hazardous materials northwest of Eunice, La.
State authorities evacuated approximately 25 percent of the population of Eunice (about 2,500-3,000 residents). Most residents were allowed to return to their homes within a week of the derailment.
There were no injuries or deaths at the time of the accident. However, there have been three minor injuries related to the hazmat release.
The train consisted of three locomotives and 113 cars. It was traveling east from Freeport, Texas, to Livonia, La. Approximately 33 cars derailed.
According to the preliminary event recorder information removed from the first two locomotives, the train was traveling at 40 mph and there was no braking prior to the train line-induced emergency brake application.
Investigators have found no indication of problems with train handling or the testable portion of the braking system. The event recorders are being shipped to the NTSB lab in Washington, D.C., for thorough review. Routine toxicology tests were performed on the crew and the results have not yet been received.
Investigators flew over the accident area in a state police helicopter and noted that the rails end abruptly at the beginning of a large depression. The crater contains numerous tank cars and railcar parts strewn about in such a way that it is difficult to determine the initial point of derailment.
The investigative team will prepare factual reports of its findings and place them in a public docket several months from now. A final report of probable cause usually takes 12 to 14 months.
Railroads donate $185,000 to Senate Republicans
WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans are collecting money from special interest groups awaiting action on legislation, a wire service reported.
In May, the railroad industry contributed $185,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Lawmakers are considering legislation to renew the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates railroads.
Pittsburgh has sites set on becoming maglev hub
PITTSBURGH -- A proposed high-speed magnetic-levitation train system could make Pittsburgh a hub for the transit system of the future, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Pittsburgh is one of seven areas in the nation seeking federal maglev money. A decision on what city gets it could come as early as September from the Federal Railroad Administration.
It is the city's hope to make Pittsburgh the hub of a maglev system that would link large cities from Washington to Boston on the East Coast to Midwest points like Toledo and Chicago.
The estimated cost of the project is $1.5 billion. Two-thirds of the money would come from the federal government and the rest from other sources. The private sector already has committed about $3 million to the project.
The first segment of the maglev system in Pittsburgh could be operating about 4 and a half years after financing is in place.
Creating awareness of the "quiet victims" -- locomotive engineers
KENT, Wash. -- Ten years ago, terms such as "counseling," "psychiatry" and "peer support" had no place in the stoic world of train engineers and workers, according to a wire service report.
But the large number of fatal railroad accidents - 16 in Washington state last year - is prompting an awareness that the industry's "quiet victims" cannot safely hold it all inside.
"A lot of engineers think they're macho men; that they don't need counseling," said BLE Vice-President Leroy Jones.
Railroad experts said almost all engineers will operate a train that hits a person or a car full of people at some point in their career.
In the past two months, trains struck and killed two young girls on a trestle in Kent; a 42-year-old man in Auburn; a 33-year-old man on a trestle in Pacific; and a 34-year-old woman near Sumner.
"It's a horrible feeling, a strange feeling - something I'll never forget," said Jack Bokay, the engineer of a train that killed a 15-year-old boy who had fallen asleep on railroad tracks near Pacific last year.
There was not much Bokay could do about it. Traveling at 48 mph, the 6,000-ton freight train would have taken about one mile of pneumatic emergency braking to slow to a stop. It crushed the boy's body.
Bokay, who still runs Union Pacific trains on the Seattle to Portland line, is haunted by the experience.
"All I wanted to do was throw up," he said. "After something like that, the last thing in the world you want to do is run a freight train."
These days, Union Pacific, Amtrak and CSX, an international freight conglomerate, have peer support groups that begin when engineers show obvious signs of stress and start refusing to finish a route after an accident.
But no uniform measures exist to ensure that engineers can get the help they need. "The railroad policies are not universal," Jones said. "It's a hodge-podge of things. Some railroads have policies, others don't. There's no federal regulation or federal law that requires anything to be done."
BNSF, CN file briefs to overturn STB's 15-month moratorium on mergers
FORT WORTH and MONTREAL -- Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian National Railway and the Western Coal Traffic League said in a joint court reply brief that the Surface Transportation Board has advanced a fundamentally flawed legal defense of its rail merger moratorium.
BNSF, CN and WCTL said the STB was wrong in telling the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that it has the statutory right to impose the moratorium. The three parties said the STB has an explicit statutory mandate established by the U.S. Congress - requiring it to process rail merger applications expeditiously under strict deadlines, and to approve mergers that are consistent with the public interest. The parties have asked the court to overturn the 15-month moratorium because it contravenes the STB's governing statute.
BNSF, CN and WCTL filed their reply brief with the appeals court pursuant to that court's April 25 decision granting them expedited judicial review of the moratorium. The STB imposed the moratorium while it reviews its non-binding railroad merger guidelines.
Oral argument before the appeals court is scheduled for June 13 in DC.
The moratorium, invoked by the STB on March 17, 2000, has blocked BNSF and CN from filing a common control application with the STB, as BNSF and CN believe they are entitled to do under applicable law.
UP fined $800,000 for toxic chemical spills
DENVER -- Union Pacific Railroad will pay an $800,000 fine and make extensive safety improvements to settle a federal lawsuit over toxic chemical spills resulting from crashes, the Denver Rocky Mountain News reported.
Among the seven wrecks that sparked the suit was a 1996 disaster in which an 82-car train lost its brakes while descending the steep, winding north side of Tennessee Pass between Leadville and Minturn in heavy snow.
Investigators concluded the train was going 65 miles per hour when it derailed, spilling 800,000 pounds of sulfuric acid. Two crew members died and a third was injured. Other crashes, all in Colorado and Utah, involved release of diesel fuel from ruptured locomotive tanks.
Railroads hook-up on the Internet
SAN MATEO, Calif. -- After watching regulators put the brakes on mergers, four of North America's largest rail carriers are joining forces on the Web, the Journal of Commerce reports.
CP, CSX, NS and UP have each invested in Arzoon, a privately-held company here that is developing technology the rail giants say will provide one-stop transportation management services across all modes and borders.
The service, jointly announced May 23, will launch in mid-summer.
Amtrak's Acela shoots for three hour tour from Boston to New York
BOSTON -- An outdated track and electrical wiring system in Connecticut won't affect the long-advertised travel time - three hours from Boston to New York - on Amtrak's Acela Express, the Boston Globe reports.
But when the trip will actually reach that much-touted three-hour mark is less clear. When the first Acela Express trains go into service this summer, travel from Boston to New York will take about three hours and 15 minutes, Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington said. Travel time will "be whittled down" to three hours, Remington said, "definitely within the next year or two, and hopefully sooner than that."
Troubles for the Acela project have included a tendency for the train's wheels to wear out quickly and a problem with the locomotives' electric power system, both of which have largely been fixed, Remington said. Amtrak engineers are still working on some computer software problems.
"Our commitment is to do this right," Remington said. "We don't want to rush it into service."
Norfolk Southern takes small town to federal court
CHICAGO -- Norfolk Southern has gone to federal court to challenge a city's right to prevent trains from blocking crossings for extended periods, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The rail giant is suing the city of Hammond, Ind., which has written tickets totaling $2.7 million in fines against the railroad since last year.
Norfolk Southern says the northwest Indiana city's ordinances limiting how long a train can block traffic at a crossing interfere with interstate commerce.
Also, the company argues, its trains sometimes block crossings for more than 10 minutes so they can comply with federal laws governing speed, signals and brake testing.
"We tried to work with this community, but we felt compelled to protect the company's interests," said Susan Bland, spokeswoman for the railroad.
Like many communities around Chicago, Hammond's law lets police ticket trains that block intersections for long periods.
But Hammond's law is particularly tough. Passed in April 1999, it provides for fines of up to $2,500 when a train blocks a crossing for more than five minutes.
Federal law regulates train speed and warning devices, but does not limit how long a train can block a crossing. Most states, including Illinois and Indiana, have passed their own laws, which allow for fines after a train hasn't moved for 10 minutes.
© 2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers