10 years of safety SENSE

Grounbreaking safety program at CSX launched in 1997

SENSE Safety Coordinators from the various regions at a recent safety meeting, from left: Sonny Hamm, Baltimore Division; Bud Morse, Chicago Division; Larry James, Huntington Division East; Rick Koch, Louisville Division; Roger Peace, Florence Division; Charlie Otten, Albany Division; Rick Skidmore, Huntington Division West; Gary Burton, Atlanta Division; Bill Sauer, Great Lakes Division; and Mike Wicks, Nashville Division. Present but not pictured is Max Tillman, Jacksonville Division.


Railroading is, and always has been, a dangerous occupation. But the years 1996 and 1997 were particularly deadly for members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. During that span 12 BLET members lost their lives in on-the-job accidents.

The Union Pacific Railroad, in 1997, was plagued by its takeover of the Southern Pacific and faced a fundamental breakdown in the safety of its train operations. But the problems weren't limited to UP - BLET members at CSX Transportation also endured their share of unsafe work practices, injuries and death.

Out of this wreckage was born a program that has dramatically improved safety and has saved many lives.

SENSE, or Structured Employee Network for Safety Empowerment, was formed on the CSX property by the BLET in response to unsafe working conditions and fatal accidents.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the SENSE program. Safety has improved dramatically at CSX over the past decade, thanks in part to SENSE. BLET members are now taking the opportunity to reflect on the past 10 years, in hopes of furthering the program for years to come.


On August 20, 1996, CSX locomotive engineer and BLET Member Tom Shay was killed in an on duty accident. Less than a year later, on June 7, 1997, BLET member Kelvin N. Winters was killed in another CSX fatality. Just prior to the June 7 fatality, CSX had been investigated and fined by the Federal Railroad Administration for violating federal safety laws.

On June 12, 1997, just five days after the Winters fatality, the BLET put its Mobilization Network into action and called a system-wide Safety Strike at CSX. More than 4,300 locomotive engineers walked off the job to protest the Winters fatality and countless other safety violations and practices.

Following the Safety Strike, BLET leaders proposed the SENSE safety program to CSX officials in Jacksonville, Fla. The program was immediately adopted and gradually put into effect across the entire CSX system. SENSE went into effect on January 23, 1998.

Now, 10 years later, safety has improved dramatically at CSX thanks to the BLET and the SENSE program.

"I am certain SENSE has saved untold lives," said Bud Morse, SENSE Safety Coordinator on CSX's Chicago Division. "Maybe it's just one, and maybe it's more than a dozen. But even if it's just one, it's worth it."

Seeing Results

Because of the daily hard work of many BLET SENSE leaders across the system, the following improvements have been achieved for BLET members:

The program gives front-line locomotive engineers the ability to address safety concerns and recommend improvements through a network that ultimately reaches CSXT senior management.

"Management finally recognized that the people out here doing the jobs are the ones they need to be listening to," said John Claytor a Locomotive Engineer with 40 years service and a member of BLET Division 34 in Columbus Ohio. "That's one of the reasons why it's a successful program. CSX knows the BLET is not fooling around with safety."

How SENSE works

SENSE uses employee mentoring to create the environment for an accident-free workplace, replacing confrontation with communication and trust.

Safety issues and concerns are channeled through union representatives to front-line field supervisors. Issue resolutions are reported back through the SENSE channels to employees.

Each BLET division is broken down into groups of 10 with one appointed SENSE Safety Team Captain. Members report safety concerns to the Team Captains. A Division Contact, appointed by members of the division, handles the concern with a local designated carrier officer. If the issue is not resolved at the local level, the Division Contact takes the concern to their BLET Division Safety Coordinator.

When the program first started in 1997 there were three BLET Regional Safety Coordinators who covered huge regional territories. These were Curtis Driggers, Richard Taylor (deceased) and Don Miller. Larry James provided support from the National Office through the Education & Training Department. Their territories were so vast, that on many occasions multiple events occurred that required their attendance on the same day and it became very difficult to cover all activities and provide the support needed in the time frame established.

To better serve the membership and enable the BLET SENSE Coordinators to become more involved on a localized scale, the three Regional BLET SENSE Coordinator positions were converted into BLET SENSE Division Safety Coordinator's. CSXT has 10 Operating Divisions. Each CSXT Operating Division has a BLET SENSE Safety Coordinator in place. One of the primary goals of the SENSE Division Safety Coordinator is to communicate regularly with each BLET SENSE Division Contact on their territory and participate in as many one on one contacts with BLET members as possible. SENSE representatives want to hear their concerns and input and will communicate these issues to CSX with the goal of timely resolution and reporting back to the member who conveyed the concern.

"It's a good program," said John Claytor. "The way it's set up with Teams and Captains, it keeps everyone involved and on board."

The results of this change have been very positive, both in accident reduction, personal injury reduction, elimination of unsafe conditions and providing education to the BLET membership on a large variety of issues. These include rule compliance and application, technology, decertification events, many issues associated with locomotives and equipment, as well as many Federal mandates that are sweeping the railroad industry that effect BLET members.

BLET SENSE has also provided input that led to positive changes and improvements to certain operating rules on CSXT.

BLET SENSE representatives over the past 10 years have been actively involved and provided volumes of input to improve working conditions for BLET members through SAC-P projects and RSAC Meetings with the FRA.

The BLET Division Safety Coordinator addresses all concerns not resolved at the local level with the designated division level carrier officer. If the concern is not resolved here, it goes on to the respective BLET General Chairman for handling with the carrier's Chief Executive Officer.

The network follows a seven-step process to target and correct safety issues. It creates a process where safety concerns are documented and filed.

"It puts supervisors on alert," said Tim Love of Division 781 in Erwin, Tenn. "They have to act because our safety issues are put into writing, not by word of mouth. It holds the supervisors' feet to the fire."

Over the years, the program has resulted in many positive improvements, and has truly empowered the workers.

"For our members, it has opened their eyes and they see what the union can do, and that it does get things done," Love said.

Florence Division

Roger Peace, current Coordinator of the Florence Division, credits Curtis Driggers for establishing SENSE on the Division.

"Curtis was instrumental in starting things with SENSE here," Peace said. "He laid a solid foundation for us to build on."

Peace said SENSE has addressed numerous issues over the years and continues to be a driving force for safety improvement on the Florence Division.

Baltimore Division

Marty Crouthers, Eastern Coordinator for the Baltimore Division, said SENSE has really improved safety in his area.

"We are hands-on correcting safety issues, and it works out really well," Crouthers said. "If we have a recurring problem, then we'll hold a Safety Blitz to correct it."

Crouthers said now that the Summer Spike is over, SENSE is focusing on slips, trips and falls. He says engineers are currently being urged to stay focused on the task at hand during the holiday season.

Sonny Hamm, Coordinator for the entire Baltimore Division, said safety is a total team effort.

"SENSE is a wonderful, wonderful program," Hamm said. "We have made so many advances and gains over the last few years."

Also working on the Baltimore Division is Bill Rominski (Western Division Coordinator) and Gary Cage (Southern Division Coordinator). Hamm thanked his Division Contacts as well: John Shifflet, Baltimore; Kendall Gordon, Brunswick; Tom Danner, Cumberland, Ted Doorley, Connellsville; Mike Humbert, Pittsburgh, Gary Cage, Richmond; and Marty Crouthers and Denny Simon, Philadelphia.

"When it comes to SENSE and safety, we are all team players," Hamm said. "Without them, the SENSE program wouldn't be successful."

Atlanta Division

Gary Burton of Division 498 (Abbeville, S.C.), represents the Atlanta Division. He credits SENSE for making his workplace safer.

"SENSE allows us to go home to our family the same way we left them," he said. "We do the job right, 100 percent all the time. Not only do we tell co-workers when they do something wrong, but also when they do something right."

He says the Atlanta Division has had a major turnaround since the implementation of SENSE. "We've reduced injuries greatly and our FRA decertifications have gone down," he said. "We're one of the top Divisions on CSX systemwide."

Looking toward the future, he says SENSE will only make things better as time goes by.

"SENSE will only get better as we bring more people into the program," he said.

Jacksonville Division

Max Tillman of BLET Division 309 represents the Jacksonville Division. He says the strength of SENSE lies in the creation of accountability.

"Forms are filled out by employees, which creates a paper trail," he said. "Issues and problems are documented, which creates accountability. From what I can see, most of the problems are addressed on the local level because local managers don't want it to go higher. If a local manager doesn't take care of something that he can take care of, then it generally only happens once.

"Every issue is not settled," he continued. "It's an ongoing battle. But every safety issue where there's a real chance someone can get hurt, it's handled quickly."

One of the current major issues that SENSE is helping resolve is the location of locomotive horns on the exterior of the cabs. On older locomotives, the horns were positioned above the engineer's head and were so loud that many blamed horns for causing hearing damage. Thanks to SENSE and the Cab Committee, horns are now being located further back on the locomotive, protecting the hearing of locomotive engineers and conductors.

Huntington Division

Tim Love is the Assistant Chairman on the Huntington Division and is based in Erwin, Tenn. He said members on the SENSE Huntington Division worked hard and got inspired to improve air filters on locomotives. They took photos and documented the conditions of locomotives, including items such as the quality of the seats, air quality, and cab cleanliness. As a result, A Locomotive Cab Committee task force was established to make conditions better on all CSX locomotives systemwide.

"It's one of the biggest things we accomplished," Love said. "It went all the way to the top at CSX in Jacksonville, and it was all started through the SENSE program."

The Locomotive Cab Committee was formed on CSXT in late 2006 to address locomotive related issues. The BLET SENSE program is assisting the Cab Committee in gathering data and input from the field on locomotive issues that the Locomotive Cab Committee "LOGIC" is currently addressing or will be addressing in the future. "LOGIC" is an acronym for Locomotive Operations General Improvement Committee.

According to Steve Casto, BLE Division 481, SENSE has been a great success in the Parkersburg, W.Va., area of the Huntington Division.

"We've handled hundred of forms, and it has improved working conditions, safety and quality of life," Casto said.

Some of the recent issues handled include improvements to steps and walking conditions in the yard and new operating rules on defect detectors.

Casto, who has been with the SENSE program since its inception, takes pride in the mentoring and critical incident response portions of SENSE.

"Every time a group of new hires come in, I go in and spend time with them in class," he said. "I take the time to introduce myself and let them know what I do and what the Brotherhood does. That's what we do as a Brotherhood."

Rick Skidmore, Huntington Division Safety Coordinator said that SENSE safety has handled in excess of 100 issues on every sub division of his territory on an annual basis.

"The documentation contained on the SENSE form requires accountability by management once the unsafe practice or unsafe condition is brought to their attention," Skidmore said.

Brother Skidmore also said that a project was implemented to identify all highway crossings by milepost location and DOT number. All locomotive engineers were issued a laminated card by the SENSE committee for ready reference in case of an emergency. These cards eliminate any confusion to exact crossing location for emergency responders. "A few seconds or minutes can save a life," Skidmore said.

Chicago Division

Bud Morse represents about 3,500 engineers on CSX's Chicago Division. Through SENSE, he has worked at hazmat peer instructor safety seminars at the George Meany Center. He has also worked with first responders to railroad crashes, teaching fire fighters and others how to shut down locomotives and other important safety responses.

"It benefits our members if ever they are involved with an accident," Morse said. "They know how to make the equipment safe so first responders can do their jobs."

As a SENSE Coordinator, Morse works with new employees and/or older employees who need some extra assistance in particular areas. He spends time working with them one-on-one for as long as it takes in order to make them safer workers and more informed.

"It's important to meet with the trainees and attend hiring sessions," Morse said. "I also speak with them during on-the-job training programs. Afterwards I feel good about their safety awareness and abilities, and am proud to say I had a small part in their training. If they work safely and according to the rules, they'll have successful careers. It's rewarding to see them following and applying the training."

In his mind, SENSE is about protecting each and every operating employee at CSX.

"I want to make sure every operating employee goes home safe and healthy so they can have a quality of life with their family," he said. "Injury and loss of income has a terrible affect on operating employees. Keeping people healthy and safe on the job keeps them in a positive state of mind. Working safely takes care of every else. By working safe, they can enjoy all other parts of their life."

Albany Division

Charlie Otten represents the Albany Division of the SENSE network. He's been involved in SENSE since 1997.

"We've accomplished a lot of things here," Otten said. "We have a good group of people here across the whole division."

The SENSE network in Albany worked with local officials to reduce trespasser hotspots, where pedestrians were parking too close to the tracks and then walking across railroad property. He also said SENSE has played a role in enhancing lighting at crew change points.

"A lot of our crew changes are at night, and enhanced light makes it a win-win for everyone," he said, noting that a tower near Selkirk is being taken down and replaced by a light tower.

He also said SENSE is working on improved paving in the Syracuse area to improve walking conditions and to cut down on slips, trips and falls. He said the success in boosting safety is the result of group efforts, not of any single group or individual.

"I'm proud to be out here helping people get home safe," Otten said. "You have to believe in safety, and I believe in it 110 percent - probably 120 percent now that I'm a full time Safety Coordinator."

Louisville Division

Rick Koch said constant education is a main focus of SENSE on the Louisville Division.

As System Coordinator, Koch has regular meetings and phone conversations with his Division Coordinators. In 2008, Koch is planning a major retraining and reeducation session for at least 16 SENSE Division contacts and Local Chairmen.

One of the major accomplishments on the Louisville Division was the publication of books that noted all railroad crossings with mile post information. The books provide grade crossing details across the entire Louisville Division.

The books are given to train crew members to help them identify crossings, which makes it easy to refer to specific crossings when reporting problems to dispatchers.

He said there are between 20-30 crossings in some small towns, and that it's impossible to know the names of them all. In putting the book together, he discovered that some of the crossings had more than one name.

Great Lakes Division

Bill Sauer, System Coordinator of the Great Lakes Division, is proud of the positive impact SENSE has had over the years.

"Our safety is second to none," Sauer said. "We're number one on all the railroads in the United States."

Sauer said there were 33 injuries on the Great Lakes Division in 2005, 21 in 2006, and thus far, only seven in 2007.

"We have a great group of people here," he said. "Our Division Contacts work hard for me and safety is always their number one. I keep in touch with them, which is one reason why our team does such a good job."

Much like his counterpart on the Louisville Division, Rick Koch, Brother Sauer has provided engineers with a book that provides information on all grade crossings across his entire division.

"Engineers know when they're coming to a grade crossing," Sauer said. "They know the name of the crossing in case the gates aren't working they can refer to the book and notify the dispatcher."

Through SENSE, the Great Lakes Division has also tackled crew transport issues. Sauer said that cab companies have switched from large, 15-passenger vans to mini vans in the Crestline, Ohio, area. Problems quickly arose due to overcrowding, leading to unsafe conditions.

Too many crew members inside the small van overloaded the vehicles, leading to the possibility of a tire blowout. And more crews would be out of service in the event of an accident. In addition, the crew's luggage had to be stacked in the back of the van, obscuring the driver's visability.

"Now, thanks to SENSE, only one crew at a time is transported by minivan," Sauer said. "It's definitely a safety improvement."

Nashville Division

Mike Wicks is System Coordinator on the Nashville Division. He and other dedicated SENSE representatives meet with crews day and night to talk about safety issues.

He said that when they notice a crew member doing something wrong, they must be reminded that not only can they get into trouble for breaking a rule, but more importantly, they can get hurt - or worse.

Continuing education regarding safety and rules is a big part of the SENSE program on the Nashville Division. SENSE trainers provide crews with classroom and field training to make sure they are always focused on safety.

Wicks said trainmen are also included in their safety efforts.

"We have a 'T' in BLET now, so we have a vested interest in trainmen issues," Wicks said.


"The BLET is fortunate to have such a great network of dedicated members who work very hard each and every day for all employees," said Larry James, BLET System SENSE Coordinator. "Their timely communications, documentation and input especially on the local level allow us to strive to resolve their issues in an expeditious manner. It's a total team effort. The National Division and the BLET-CSXT General Chairmen: Don Moates, Rick Finamore, Tony Smith and Tom Roberts have also provided valuable support and assistance."

The Division Safety Coordinators conduct a monthly call to compare notes, pass along information and assistance to other Division Coordinators that may help resolve an on-going issue on their respective territory.

Over and above normal housekeeping issues, in the past few years BLET SENSE members have been involved in various SAC-P projects with the FRA, have been very involved in taxi and van safety issues, have had input in development or changes to Operating and Safety Rules, improvement to train line-ups, most every issue associated with locomotives and locomotive safety and wayside signals just to name a few.

Additionally, an annual review of locomotive engineer decertification events is conducted in an effort to get to the root cause or any associated issues involved and work on developing safeguards to keep a similar type of event from happening to another member.



© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen