UP and Limbo Time – Just My Opinion
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I read the UP website and their twist on what eliminating limbo time would mean, since they’ve spun their stories forever.
Still, I couldn’t believe what was written on their front page story. UP said, “Because railroads are in essence 'outdoor factories,' limbo time provides operational flexibility. Weather, equipment failure, accidents and periodic congestion all can result in unanticipated delays.” Let’s just look at this for a minute. If the only time “limbo time” occurred was because of any one of the above events, then I don’t believe it would be the issue it has become. The fact is that UP abuses “limbo time” on a regular basis because they can. There are no operational needs other than their failure to hire enough operating crews and van drivers to get crews off a train when they expire on the hours of service law. As far as their statement relating to periodic congestion, there is nothing periodic about it. It’s a constant, therefore, it should not be considered as part of the rationalization for limbo time.
The article goes on to say, “If limbo time is eliminated, Union Pacific would have to operate short train runs in many locations. This would require creating new crew change points and eliminating interdivisional runs.” There may be truth to that, I cannot speak for the entire system, but here in our neck of the woods, they shortened the run, but it takes longer to get over the road. The SP East line used to operate between El Paso and Tucumcari, New Mexico with a double-ended pool. Even on a train operating with minimal horsepower, a number of trains were able to make the 330 mile run in under 12 hours. Then along came the great and wonderful UP. They shortened the run to 230 miles, created a new crew change point, and rarely get trains over the road in less than 12 hours. Crews joke about the fact that the halfway point between Vaughn, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas is a siding within the El Paso City limits. Western Lines General Chairman Bill Hannah has it right, rather than fighting the elimination of limbo time, how about training dispatchers to dispatch properly. That would eliminate a big part of the reason crews can’t get where they are going in 12 hours.
And the most outrageous statement came from John Marchant, Vice President of “Labor Relations” for the UP. He stated that, “Eliminating limbo time wouldn’t improve working conditions for train and engine employees. It would have the opposite effect, by forcing the railroad to abandon long interdivisional runs in favor of shorter, ‘basic day’ runs. Employees would have to work more often and have less time with their families at home.” This is hogwash! It would improve working conditions because employees would be off duty and to their final destination terminal within the 12 hour duty period, rather than whenever the railroad decided to get them off the train. It has been documented that crews average 15 hours per trip, and outrageously have been left on trains for up to 20 additional hours, almost a day and a half on the train. Like normal people in the rest of the world, there would actually be a limit to the amount of time worked. As far as going to “basic day” runs, I seriously doubt UP would do that because it would cost them too much to make those kind of radical changes. Employees would have more time with their families because they could better plan activities when they were home because they would know they would actually be home after 12 hours if limbo time is eliminated. In addition, without limbo time, crews wouldn’t get as tired waiting on transportation, so they would be more likely to get better rested.
The Carriers are trying to scare people into thinking they would be making less money if limbo time is eliminated. They said the same thing back when the hours of service was reduced from 16 to 12 hours. It just didn’t happen. A solution would be to actually start hiring and properly training engineers and conductors now to reduce the manpower shortages.
The railroads were able to operate within the 12 hour maximum on duty time before the 1996 Supreme Court decision. All we asking is that they go back to that operational standard. It has been proven it can be done.
Remember, this is the kind of garbage the Railroads are using to water down the limbo time issue. Don’t let them. Make sure your Congressional Representative and your Senators know that limbo time must be eliminated. Period. If they want to play “let’s make a deal” and hold crews out over the 12 hour period, then make the penalty so severe in the form of employee compensation, that they would rarely do so.
Keep the pressure up and support H.R. 2095 with no compromise on the complete elimination of limbo time. A full committee mark up in the House is expected sometime after June 4, 2007, when Congress returns from their Memorial Day recess. We’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, make sure the message is clear to Congress. This is a safety issue which will go a long way in reducing fatigue. Don’t let them be swayed by the Carrier’s crocodile tears.