Metra engineers reinstated, thanks to BLET
Thanks to the efforts of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, three locomotive engineers were reinstated - with back pay - after being wrongfully discharged by Metra following a 2004 accident that claimed the life of a 10-year-old boy at the River Grove Metra Station.
A federal arbitrator ruled that Metra had materially violated the engineers' due process rights to a fair hearing and prevented the engineers from making a defense.
Metra did not summon a single material eyewitness to the accident and excluded all evidence offered in defense of its members by the BLET, said BLET National Vice President Rick Radek said. And instead of trying to conduct a fair trial, Metra management attempted to prove the engineers' guilt through the media.
"Metra built a hearing record consisting solely of what it wanted in it, and then found the engineers guilty of the safety rule violations it had already pronounced them guilty of in the press the very same night of the accident," Radek said. "It can surprise no one that the arbitration board overturned the result of such bias and manipulations."
A Metra safety rule was at issue in River Grove case. The rule requires that when trains are "receiving or discharging passengers a passenger train must not depart a station when a train or engine is seen approaching until the leading end of approaching train has passed rear of standing train, unless communication has been established to ensure safe guards."
The eastbound train had finished receiving and discharging its passengers and was already departing the station when the approaching express train was seen, which was still some distance away.
A literal application of the rule did not require the eastbound to remain stationary. The crew judged that their train would be well east of the station before the express train arrived, and that pedestrians about the station would be able to see and hear the express train approach, allowing them to take precaution to the train's passing. An eyewitness, which Metra did not summon, said this was exactly what transpired.
Instead, Metra argued that the engineers could have seen the express train sooner, before they had finished loading their passengers, and then the rule would have required that they remain stationary. The engineers testified the headlight of an on-coming freight train prevented them from seeing the express train sooner.
Rather than calling the crew of the freight train to testify, Metra relied upon conjecture that the freight train's reported location later indicated it could not have been where the BLET engineers claimed it was at the critical time and accused our engineers of lying about the presence of the freight train. This became known in the Chicago media as the "phantom train." Metra announced to the media it justified the permanent firing of the three engineers because of their "lie."
Vice-President Radek extended sincere sympathy to the family of Michael DeLarco, the 10-year-old boy killed in the accident. "Many of us are parents, too, and we can all appreciate how difficult it is to cope with the loss of a child, regardless of the circumstances."
As a result of the entire River Grove accident, the BLET began a program to increase public awareness about the need for better safety in and around Metra train stations.
"We detected glaring inconsistencies in the level of safety accorded passengers on the various Metra lines," Radek said. "We have been working with state officials and with officials in the communities Metra serves to enhance the level of protection for pedestrians at train stations. Preventing another accidental death should be Michael DeLarco's legacy."
© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen