A message from Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa

Rail security and the bottom line

The Department of Homeland Security recently revised their rules for air travel, yet not a word was said about rail travel. Certainly airline travel has been a high profile type of target since 9/11 and we have benefited from the stringent security rules and preventative measures taken by law enforcement officers. In addition, the undercover police work that goes on everyday, evidenced by the thwarting of the recent airline plot, makes a difference. But, why is rail security still neglected?

Passengers can still board an Amtrak train or commuter rail system anywhere in the country and not have their bags inspected, not need to remove their shoes and not have to be screened by a metal detector. Most baggage on the rails is within easy reach of passengers during their entire trip. All this, plus the fact that rails carry five-times as many passengers as the airlines.

The big reason for the lack of security on the rails is big business. In 2004, Big Rail spent $6 million on contributions to politicians. Governor Schwarzenegger of California vetoed a rail security bill that was supported by both state houses because he, "...didn't believe in it." Not coincidentally the governor had recently received campaign contributions from Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe. After he vetoed the bill, UP donated more money. Schwarzenegger took $35,000 from rail corporations. This seems like a lot, but he could have held out for more.

Nothing but the bottom line is more important to Big Rail. They don't want to be forced to train employees on safety and security rules and they don't want to hire more rail police. Security training can be expensive, but apparently their bottom line is more important than the security and safety of their employees and the public. During national negotiations with the rail carriers we have seen a similar posturing. The rail carriers are constantly insisting that they need to cut the number of employees operating a locomotive and that they want to hire more subcontractors for maintenance of way projects. Our position is that more rail crew members will better ensure the safety of the locomotive and its cargo. The government and the public would never consider allowing a single pilot to fly a plane, so why should it be any different to run a train with at least two, or more, crew members? And, the maintenance of our track, switch and rail tunnel systems should be exclusively entrusted to maintenance of way members. The hiring of subcontractors to perform union work opens up the rails for possible tampering and inconsistent standards of work.

More and more legislators are writing rail security bills for submission to their states. Cities from Atlanta to Cincinnati to Fresno to Houston are waking up to the dangers posed by unsecured rail yards, the scant presence of rail police, haz mat rail cargo and lack of safety plans. Just as state legislatures are taking up the rail security issue, we will continue our support of federal officials who do the same.

We will continue to fight so that all rail employees have safety training in order to protect themselves and the public for harm. Big Rail may believe that the safety of their employees and the public are secondary concerns when it comes to profits, but we believe that our members, those on the rails everyday, the true eyes and ears of the rails, are the most valuable assets the rails can have.


James P. Hoffa
General President



© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen