(BLET Editor’s Note: The following message from BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce has been excerpted from the October 2016 issue of the Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen News.)
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, November 8 — On behalf of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, I applaud the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) for including rail worker fatigue as one of the 10 items on its 2016 Safety Watchlist. Similar to the Most Wanted List published annually by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the TSB’s Safety Watchlist identifies critical issues impacting transportation safety.
Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB, said: “Fatigue has been a factor in numerous railway investigations, most notably regarding freight train operations. Too many train crews aren’t getting the rest they need, whether it’s shifts that are too long or irregular scheduling that interferes with normal sleep times. It’s time for the railway industry to start applying fatigue science to crew scheduling, instead of calling for more studies.”
My counterpart Doug Finnson, President of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, said: “We’ve always believed that fighting fatigue should be based on sound science, not operational efficiency.” We in the BLET could not agree more. It’s time to stop putting profits ahead of safety. The time is now to address rail worker fatigue.
The TSB Watchlist notes that safety management systems should include a process for scheduling the work of certain employees, such as employees whose schedule is not communicated at least 72 hours in advance, or who are required to work beyond their normal schedule, or who are required to work between midnight and 6:00 a.m. Moreover, TSB says that process should be based on the principles of fatigue science.
In the U.S., the NTSB’s 2016 Most Wanted List also included a call to “Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents” across all modes of transportation. The NTSB noted that: “Some of our earliest recommendations called for research to better understand the problem of fatigue in transportation, and, over the past three decades, a great deal of research has been done. But research only goes so far; we must implement what we have learned.”
Similarly, the TSB notes: “Even though the railway industry and Transport Canada have known sleep-related fatigue to be a problem for over 20 years, the initiatives taken to date have been inadequate to fully address the issue. As a result, fatigue continues to pose a risk to the safe operation of trains.”
I’ll say it again: the time is now to get serious and put an end to worker fatigue in the railroad industry.
As all rail workers know, fatigue can seriously degrade work performance and can contribute directly to accidents. Fatigue leads to slower reaction times, memory problems, poor decision-making, and inefficient information processing.
A main cause of fatigue for operating employees is the variable work schedules that rail crews are forced to endure. Unreliable schedules result in unpredictable and inconsistent patterns of awake and sleep time for locomotive engineers and trainmen, resulting in rail worker fatigue. Due to the unpredictable nature of their assignments, compounded by glaring deficiencies in the railroad’s train lineups as compared to actual call times, engineers and trainmen are more frequently subjected to situations where they are not adequately rested through no fault of their own.
The situation is made even worse by punitive carrier attendance policies that threaten employees with discipline for attempting to avoid hazardous conditions by taking time off due to fatigue. Under current attendance policy rules, engine and train service employees could be suspended from work or even fired for taking time off due to fatigue.
Allowing engineers to take time off due to fatigue — without fear of disciplinary retaliation — would be a good first step toward reducing fatigue. More accurate train line-ups would be an excellent second step. As the NTSB has noted, fatigue has been studied to death; indeed, many BLET members have participated in the various studies sponsored by the FRA and other government bodies for many years. Everyone knows what needs to be done, but the industry has not yet shown the willpower to manage their operations in a way that meaningfully addresses this scourge.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently published a regulation establishing the conditions for design and implementation of System Safety Plans (SSPs) by the nation’s passenger and commuter railroads. Also pending is a FRA regulation mandating that Class 1 and other freight railroads adopt Risk Reduction Plans (RRPs), which is a requirement pending since enactment of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
All SSPs and RRPs must include fatigue mitigation plans as a matter of law. In preparation for discussions that will take place with the various railroads next year, the National Division is hosting a program for passenger and commuter rail General Chairmen on December 12. That program will equip our General Chairmen, and their General Committees of Adjustment, with the tools necessary to fight for fatigue management plans within the SSP/RRP construct that will provide genuine relief from this significant safety hazard. A similar program will be offered to our General Chairmen of freight railroads required to implement RRPs once FRA’s final rule has been published.
The time for talk is over, and the need to act is more imperative today than ever before. We will provide future updates on this subject as development warrant.
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, September 2 — -- Labor Day is the American holiday that formally honors the nation’s working class, and informally marks the end of summer.
This Labor Day comes in an election year that will present stark choices to voters, and will have a long-lasting impact on job and economic security for BLET members and their families. We are all free to cast our votes as we see fit, but I believe that BLET has an obligation to provide balanced information to all members concerning workplace issues.
Although there are politicians in the Republican Party that work to help the working class, the Party itself has for decades pushed a platform that does just the opposite. That analysis is not based on any blind loyalty to the Democratic Party, nor is it based on any emotional tie to one party or the other. Instead, one only has to read and compare the actual Republican Party platform to see it for what it really is — an anti-worker agenda that seeks to reward Corporate America at the expense of the working class
One also doesn’t have to read very far to find out how this Platform negatively affects Railroad Employees. At the Republican National Convention in July, the delegates approved a platform that calls for the direct elimination of funding for Amtrak.
The platform states: “The federal government should allow private ventures to provide passenger service in the northeast corridor. The same holds true with regard to high-speed and intercity rail across the country. We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California’s high-speed train to nowhere.”
As railroaders, we know that two of the largest potential threats to our Railroad Retirement system are the elimination of Amtrak and changes to crew size on the freight roads. Not only would this platform, if adopted, result in the loss of thousands of good union jobs, it would also threaten our Railroad Retirement system. The stability of Railroad Retirement is tied to steady employment levels in the railroad industry as a whole over a long period of time. The privatization of Amtrak and the sudden elimination of 20,000 Amtrak jobs would seriously jeopardize Railroad Retirement’s future.
In addition to its decidedly anti-rail agenda, the Republican Party’s platform also calls for enactment of a national “right-to-work” law. It has been well proven that so-called “right-to-work” laws are nothing more than a windfall for Corporate America at the expense of the working class. General President Hoffa often calls such laws “right-to-work for less” — and for good reason. Employees in right-to-work states make nearly $6,000 less per year than those in states without right-to-work laws, and the poverty rates and infant mortality rates are higher in right-to-work states.
I can’t say it any more clearly than this: If you look at the Republican Party platform, it’s plain to see that they are supporting changes in America’s workplace that will harm those in the working middle class, railroad employees, and labor unions at large. We are square in their sites.
These policies don’t celebrate the working men and women of this nation as the back bone of our American society; they do just the opposite. Big business and the Republicans are doing everything in their power to ensure a weak labor movement. Why? A weak labor movement cannot best represent the interests of workers and a weak labor movement is less likely to put fair wages into the hands of any company’s employees. It’s way past time for corporations to stop treating American workers like cheap labor to be exploited, but that gets less likely by the day when politicians bought and paid for by corporate America control our nation.
Organized labor is the one movement that has fought these corporations on behalf of working class Americans, and those efforts have contributed substantially to the highest standard of living and the highest levels of worker production the world has ever known. It’s part of the legacy established by our forefathers, who founded our Brotherhood on May 8, 1863.
On this Labor Day, I ask that you do your part to uphold that legacy by fulfilling your obligation to vote in union elections, as well as the national, state and local elections coming up on November 8. It’s the best way to honor those who fought for your right to vote, whom we honor this weekend. We need to work together to transform government from a tool of the bosses to a servant of the people.
We certainly have our work cut out for us, but we realize that the stakes are far too high to lose. On behalf of the BLET Advisory Board, I wish you all a happy and healthy Labor Day.
FRA Awards $25 Million in Grants for
Positive Train Control Implementation
11 projects in six states and the District of Columbia receive funding
Many will help PTC systems work together
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today awarded $25 million in grants for 11 projects in six states and the District of Columbia to assist in implementing Positive Train Control (PTC). FRA received 30 eligible applications requesting $90.6 million, nearly four times the $25 million Congress provided in the appropriations bill that funds FRA for Fiscal Year 2016. The list of awards is below. Many awards will help railroads achieve interoperability among the different PTC systems that railroads are deploying.
“These grants get us a bit closer to implementing Positive Train Control – a long overdue technology that prevents accidents and saves lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We will continue to do everything in our power to help railroads install this technology. We encourage Congress to fully fund the President’s request for significant funds to help more railroads activate PTC.”
PTC systems are designed to prevent certain train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and trains going to the wrong tracks due to improper switching. Learn more about the different types of PTC systems in the United States.
“Every dollar we invest in implementing Positive Train Control as quickly as possible is money well spent because ultimately it means fewer accidents and fewer fatalities,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg. “Today’s grants inch us closer to a safer rail network with PTC.”
In 2008, Congress mandated PTC implementation on the main lines of Class I railroads and entities providing regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation over which any poisonous or toxic by inhalation hazardous materials are transported, or over which intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation is regularly provided. Last October, Congress extended the original PTC implementation deadline from December 31, 2015 to at least December 31, 2018.
FRA awarded grants in the approximate amounts below to the following entities:
· Metrolink – Calif.
o $2.4 million to develop, test, and deploy a full-feature service desk management suite of software applications that will allow each railroad to create, track, manage and share PTC system and asset trouble tickets internally within the organization and with interoperable railroad partners.
· Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) District – Calif.
o $3 million to install PTC and integrated new grade crossing warning systems on the 2.1-mile passenger rail extension between downtown San Rafael and Larkspur, Calif.
· Caltrain – Calif.
o $2.88 million to conduct two test procedures for the field integration and functional testing of Caltrain’s Interoperable-Incremental Train Control System (I-ITCS) that will allow Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS) equipped tenants to seamlessly operate on Caltrain’s tracks.
· Amtrak – D.C.
o $2.64 million to put in place authentication technology to fully secure the PTC wireless communication and data transmittal between a train’s point of origin and targeted receivers on the Northeast Corridor.
· American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association – D.C.
o $2.5 million to create a Crew Initialization Back Office Server System (CI-BOS) hosted service to assist small railroads tasked with implementing PTC, particularly systems that interoperate with Class I railroads.
· Providence and Worcester Railroad Company (P&W) – Mass.
o $965,832 to acquire and install eight Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) PTC onboard units for P&W’s locomotives utilized on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
· Twin Cities & Western Railroad Company – Minn.
o $1.1 million to implement and test PTC systems, including a contract with a back office service and interoperability message software provider, initial activation and licensing fees of hosted back office systems, and two PTC equipped locomotives.
· Missouri Department of Transportation – Mo.
o $3 million to jointly partner with the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) for an Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS) implementation project on the Missouri side of TRRA’s territory.
· North Carolina Department of Transportation – N.C.
o $771,070 to equip five converted Cab Control Units with Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS) and conduct testing on the Piedmont corridor or within any adjacent rail territory of NCDOT’s rail partners (Norfolk Southern Corporation and Amtrak).
· Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority – Texas
o $3 million to implement Enhanced Automatic Train Control (E-ATC) that will overlay the existing wayside signal system and enhance onboard, wayside, and control office equipment and software to create a functional PTC system in the Austin area.
· Fort Worth & Western Railroad – Texas
o $2.56 million to install PTC on-board equipment and 220 MHz radios on nine locomotives in a phased installation, develop a crew initialization back office server, and train necessary personnel to operate and maintain the PTC system.
Since 2008, FRA has provided significant assistance to support PTC implementation. Those efforts include:
· Providing more than $650 million in grants to passenger railroads, including nearly $400 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding;
· Issuing a nearly $1 billion loan to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to implement PTC on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad;
· Building a PTC system testbed at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado;
· Working directly with the Federal Communications Commission and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to resolve issues related to spectrum use and improve the approval process for PTC communication towers; and
· Dedicating staff to work on PTC implementation, including establishing a PTC task force.
View a list of when railroads predict they will complete full PTC implementation:https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0628
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, August 5 — With approximately 90 days to go until Election Day, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen is encouraging all members and their families to register and vote in the upcoming November elections. National elections will be held on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.
Members can use the Rock the Vote area of theTeamsters website to register and to find voter registration information in their state or go to the BLET Arizona State Legislative Board website (www.azslb.org) to easily register and sign up for early voting.
Members can also use the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website (www.eac.gov) to download the National Mail Voter Registration Form. The form allows you to register to vote, update registration information due to a change of name, make a change of address, or register with a political party. The National Form also contains voter registration rules and regulations for each state and territory. It is available by clicking here (PDF).
Additionally, members are advised that different states have recently passed voter identification laws, which require voters to produce some sort of identification when showing up at the voting booth. The BLET National Legislative Board strongly urges you to familiarize yourself with your state’s regulations prior to the November elections. For information on voter ID laws in your state, please visit the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce urges all BLET members and their families to make sure their voices are heard in the November elections.
“This election is the most crucial of all modern day elections based on the impact it will have on our members and their families,” President Pierce said. “This election is really about protecting our working families from the threats to take away the benefits and safety nets that we have worked so hard to create. FELA, Railroad Retirement and Medicare, all of which are counted on by all members, are all being targeted and we must elect politicians who will help us protect them. It is imperative that every BLET member vote in November, and anyone who may possibly be working on November 8 needs to arrange to cast an early ballot or an absentee ballot.”
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, July 18 — The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) testified in favor of two-person train crews at a hearing convened by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on July 15, 2016, regarding the FRA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on train crew size.
Vice President and National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman testified on behalf of the BLET. VP Tolman conveyed the BLET’s ongoing position that two-person crews are the safest and that new technology (such as Positive Train Control) should be implemented as an additional level of safety in support of the existing two-person crew structure. In other words, the technology should not be used to replace crew members, which is the polar opposite position of the rail management group that testified.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) testified about the heroic deeds of Geoff Andersen. Working with other train crew members, Brother Andersen, a member of BLET Division 69 (Grand Forks, N.D.), put himself in danger to mitigate the disaster of the derailment and subsequent explosions following the derailment of a BNSF oil train in Casselton, N.D., in December 2013. “The ability to mitigate such a potential catastrophe) simply would not have been possible with a single person working alone on a locomotive,” Vice President Tolman said.
Other witnesses of note were Barrington, Illinois, Village President (Mayor) Karen Darch and The Honorable Ron Harris, Executive Director of the Louisiana Municipal Association (LMA), which represents 303 cities, towns and villages in Louisiana.
President (Mayor) Darch testified about the safety and efficiency concerns of having trains block crossings that may need to be traversed by emergency personnel. Approximately 32,000 cars a day pass on one of the highways where a train crosses in her Illinois community. Harris claimed this also was a potential problem in Louisiana where there are 3,000 miles of rail line. The ability to cut cars to clear crossings is virtually impossible with a single person train crew.
VP Tolman expressed BLET’s growing frustration with the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR’s) assertion that not enough data exists regarding the safety of single-person crews. The only way to gather single-person crew data is for train crews and the public to assume the risk that is being offloaded by the railroads and onto them. AAR claims that since single person operational data does not exist, then FRA should either keep the status quo or allow single person or no person operations.
Ed Hamberger testified on behalf of the AAR. Also on AAR’s panel were a representative of CSX, a Vice President from the Indiana Railroad and a former George W. Bush administration official from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Hamberger testified that the NPRM fails in two ways; first, it does not adhere to the Administrative Procedures Act; and, second, that the lack of data should lead FRA to not move forward with regulation. Hamberger also claimed the issue was one best left up to collective bargaining. The idea that a lack of data exists was challenged by the public officials testifying, FRA, BLET and the other unions present.
The notion that collective bargaining alone would resolve the issue was also explained in greater detail. Both the BLET and the SMART Transportation Division expressed frustration regarding the concept that railroad workers should have to bargain away or trade safety for dollars. Safety is non-negotiable.
Underscoring a lack of knowledge of railroad operations, the AAR also made attempts to compare PTC technology with driverless cars and trucks, arguing that to mandate two-person crews would stifle the railroads’ ability to innovate and would lead to uncertainty. The BLET responded that PTC technology is not designed or mandated to take the place of a second crewmember or perform the same duties and functions.
“To compare freight trains with thousands of tons of weight that carry volatile and hazardous materials to a driverless car should embarrass the railroads,” VP Tolman said. “It frustrates train crews who know better.”
BLET stressed Class 1 railroad data and an analysis from Oliver Wyman points out that 531,000 — or 1 in 4 — trains experienced delays due to unplanned events in 2013 and that PTC technology would not resolve the causes of those delays.
The BLET also raised concerns regarding the problems of fatigue in the industry, poor crew lineups, and the human factors problems that can be introduced into the locomotive cab with the implementation of new technologies. The AAR did not acknowledge any of these critical safety issues during its testimony. There were no speakers other than the AAR panel who spoke in favor of single-person crews.