Railroad carriers' toxic brew

Hijacking, chemical explosions, reveal gaps in carriers' rail security plans

Numerous security and safety breaches on the nation's railways in October, including a man who allegedly hijacked a train with a bow and arrow, reinforce the findings of the Teamsters Rail Conference report, "High Alert: Workers Warn of Security Gaps on Nation's Railroads."

The report documents a startling lack of safety and security measures in this post-September 11th era. Employees of Union Pacific, CSX, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk Southern and others participated in the report, detailing many examples of carriers' operational security and safety gaps that put the public at risk.

"When a man can take over a train with a bow and arrow, and when an exploding tanker car kills citizens, destroys homes, totals cars in a quarter-mile area and forces the evacuation of hundreds of people, it's time to pull heads out of the sand," said John Murphy, International Vice President and Director of the Teamsters Rail Conference. "The rail carriers' security systems are woefully inadequate. We need to look no further than Madrid and London for the catastrophic consequences of inaction."

Recent security and safety incidents include:

"High Alert" details survey responses from more than 4,000 rail employees nationwide and details shocking inattention to security by the nation's largest rail corporations. Rail employees have little, if any, training on the handling of hazardous materials, such as the propylene gas in the Arkansas accident. The practice of leaving locomotives and other rail machinery unlocked is far too common. The report's conclusions are that the U.S. rail system is vulnerable to terrorist attack, and rail corporations have not taken seriously the safety of their employees and the public.

A week after the release of "High Alert," the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its own report on rail security, prompting Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to declare: "We are in a situation where our individual rail services across the country have no clear understanding of what the best means are of securing their rail systems."

On October 19, 2005, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) took a small step in the right direction and issued an emergency order mandating that railroads take specific and immediate steps to fix a growing safety problem with hand-operated track switches in "dark territory" which has lead to an increasing number of train accidents, resulting in nine serious train crashes, 10 fatalities and injuries to more than 600 people since January 2005, but until the FRA affirmatively addresses the inherent deficiencies of dark territory and non-monitored switches, as well as the issues of crew fatigue, work/rest schedules, manpower shortages, and operating rule deficiencies, the hand-operated track switches problem will not be solved.

"Railroads must put an end to these avoidable and deadly mistakes," Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta said, admonishing the carriers.

The Teamsters again call on the rail carriers to implement the recommendations detailed in "High Alert." If they refuse, the Teamsters Rail Conference will press Congress to institute regulations that compel them to do so.

A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.teamster.org/divisions/rail/pdfs/railsecuritybook.pdf

 

© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen