BLET opposes Mexican inspection of U.S. trains

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen recently testified against allowing the Union Pacific Railroad to operate trains to the far interior of the United States with inspections of safety critical equipment done in Mexico.

The Union Pacific is seeking a waiver that would allow inspection and tests of its locomotives to be performed by employees of Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM). The waiver, if granted by the FRA, would allow the TFM railroad to inspect the equipment and fulfill the requirements of "Pre-Departure Inspection," "229.21 Locomotive Daily Inspection," "End-of-Train Device Testing and Inspection," and the all important, "Initial Terminal Class I Brake Test." The trains would then be allowed to move into the U.S. for a distance of up to 1,000 miles before receiving another inspection.

In addition to testifying against the waiver, legislative and political leaders of the BLET are currently on Capitol Hill seeking sponsors for a letter expressing opposition to the UP request from Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN).

During the FRA public hearing in Washington, D.C., on October 1, oral comments were delivered by Terry Briggs, Chairman of the BLET's Texas State Legislative Board, and Bob Harvey, the BLET's Regulatory Research Coordinator. The BLET raised various safety and security concerns regarding the UP's waiver request.

"The BLET has numerous concerns and questions regarding the Union Pacific request to eliminate train and locomotive air brake and mechanical inspections on trains entering the United States in Laredo, Texas, and substitute that inspection with one done in Mexico," Chairman Briggs testified. "Our concerns are driven by the need for safety of our members, who will be operating the trains and locomotives affected by the proposed changes, as well as the safety and security of the citizens of the communities through which these trains will be operating."

The UP provided numerous documents in support of its request for a waiver, including a Spanish translation of 49CFR parts 232, 215, 229 and 231, portions of the Code of Federal Regulations that govern locomotive inspections. However, Chairman Briggs testified that these documents are cause for concern because they do not provide a direct translation of U.S. regulations.

"A comparison of the provided documents to the English version of the same CFR parts reveals substantial differences exist between the English and Spanish version," Brother Briggs said during his oral presentation. "For example, in the Spanish version of 49CFR, there are numerous instances where text is omitted or deleted, ranging from single words or phrases to paragraphs and even entire sections numbering 20 or 30 pages. In addition, the Spanish translation is from an outdated version of 49CFR, one that lacks any mention of locomotive sanitation regulations that have been in effect since 2002.

"These examples are offered as an illustration of the questionable overall quality of the material that is used to train the personnel who will be charged with conducting the inspections in accordance with current FRA regulations. If the regulatory language is incorrect, we can fully expect the quality of the training material to be questionable. It is therefore doubtful that the training TFM employees receive is fully compliant with 49CFR."

The BLET also testified regarding the issue of accountability for those persons responsible for conducting inspections and tests in Mexico.

"FRA has the authority to impose civil penalties against railroads and their employees for failure to comply with safety related regulations," Briggs said. "These penalties are in place to act as an effective deterrent against lax inspections and the use of non-compliant or unsafe equipment. Clearly, FRA has no jurisdiction in Mexico and therefore no method of ensuring compliance other than TFM railroad's voluntary cooperation.

"BLET has great difficulty understanding how allowing the TFM railroad, which is based in Mexico, to voluntarily comply with FRA regulations, as would be the case if this waiver is granted, is consistent with FRA's mission to continue to improve rail safety."

BLET described these essential testing and inspection requirements to be the living end of over a century of experience with railroad equipment failure and design needs for safety. The regulatory oversight performed by well-trained, qualified, and accountable individuals assures employee and public safety. These vital duties cannot be exported to a place where the safety culture is not equal to that of the U.S. or Canada.

The BLET also cited issues of security in arguing against the UP's waiver request.

"The Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration, as well as BLET are currently raising awareness of security vulnerabilities that exist in the freight rail system in the United States," Briggs testified. "With respect to this operation, the inspections that are currently done on trains in Laredo provide an added layer of security. Because approval of this proposal would remove that redundancy, and lessen security on those trains, BLET urges the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration to study this proposal and make their finding a part of this record."

At the conclusion of the meeting, Grady Cothen, the FRA's Acting Association Administrator, asked the BLET to provide a more detailed report of the errors and mistakes in the Spanish translation of 49CFR. The BLET also requested that the public record be held open an additional 60 days because of the impact this waiver request may have on matters of security.

In addition to Oberstar, 11 signatures are now on the letter opposing the UP waiver request, including; Corrine Brown (D-FL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Michael Capuano (D-MA), Elijah E. Cummings, (D-MD), Michael A. Michaud (D-ME), Nick Lampson (D-TX), William Lipinski (D-IL), Juanita Millender-MacDonald (D-CA), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Jerry Costello (D-IL), Tim Holden (D-PA), Julia Carson (D-IN), and Ed Pastor (D-AZ).

BLET members are asked to contact their Representative in the House and ask them to sign on to the Oberstar letter. A copy of Oberstar's letter to FRA Acting Administrator Betty Monro is available on the BLET website at: http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/monro.pdf

The entire docket can be seen at http://dms.dot.gov and is listed as Docket No. 18746.

 

 

© 2004 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen