BLE member hurt, UTU member killed in New Jersey van accident

In the wake of a fatal contract van collision in New Jersey on November 6, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is calling for stricter regulations governing the off-duty transportation of railroad workers.

Investigators are still trying to piece together what happened on November 6, when UTU conductor J.P. McMahon was killed and BLE engineer John Moore was injured after their contract van was involved in an accident. The northbound van was transporting them to their on-duty location in North Bergen, N.J., and was in the process of making a left-hand turn into the yard when it was struck broadside by a vehicle heading south. Brother Moore, 51, is Secretary-Treasurer of BLE Division 46 (Albany, N.Y.).

Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year would provide for increased safety inspections of contract carrier motor vehicles. Section 604 of the Railroad Safety Reform Act of 2002 (H.R. 4761) reads:

"A railroad carrier shall not require or allow a transport motor vehicle to be used to transport employees to or from a work site, whether that transport motor vehicle is owned or operated by the railroad carrier or by an independent contractor to the railroad carrier, unless the transport motor vehicle has been tested and inspected at appropriate intervals, in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Secretary, to ensure that it has been properly maintained and can safely transport railroad employees."

While this legislation would only go so far in protecting railroad workers, there are precautions BLE members can take to ensure their safety.

Because the accident happened in his state, New Jersey State Legislative Board Chairman Ken Michel issued a reminder regarding contract van safety. "While not written down in any collective bargaining agreement as one of your responsibilities, these habits may ultimately save your life," Brother Michel said.

Chairman Michel suggests that members take the following precautions when riding in a contract van:

"While this is not to confirm or imply that the accident in North Bergen on November 6 was the fault of the van driver, it does serve as a reminder that safe habits may be the only thing that will save your life," Chairman Michel said.

Two BLE members have been killed in contract van collisions since 1998. On March 21, 2001, BLE member R.J. St. Marie, 48, along with a conductor and a van driver, was killed in a deadhead accident near Alexandria, La. Their van was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler in a construction zone on Interstate 10 as it traveled to their off-duty point.

BLE Engineer David Butler, 51, was killed in an off-duty collision in Small, Texas, on May 13, 1998. Brother Butler and Conductor A.E. Carbajal had just left their Union Pacific train to be relieved under the Hours of Service Act when the tragedy occurred. Their taxi entered a crossing at the west end of the siding and was struck by a westbound train. Both men were killed, as was the van's driver.


© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers