My husband has been a locomotive engineer for 27 years and most of that time he has worked on the road. All those years of being on the road were hard on him and our family. The long hours on the road – and staying in less than the greatest hotels – were a part of railroad life. I figured I just had to live with it, as there was nothing that could be done about the working conditions. “This is the way railroads have been run for over 100 years,” has been a familiar refrain.
Recently, I was lobbying in my state capital (in Harrisburg, PA) and an aide to a State Senator said: “the railroads have been running their engines in the long nose forward position for over one hundred years. Why should they change now?” This statement hit me like a ton of bricks. Because the railroads have been able to get away with unsafe, unhealthy working conditions for the last 100 plus years, they should be able to continue to operate the same way? I have also had a U.S. Congressman tell me this year that rail safety is featherbedding. This type of attitude is outrageous.
Why do I care so much about the working conditions of BLE members? Why am I always writing letters and lobbying along side the BLE? Why do I feel so strongly about these matters?
Let me try to explain it to you. I, like most spouses, have many responsibilities. I take care of the children, the house, and our parents. I have so many things to do because my husband is not there to do them.
But one thing I have always done is listen to my husband when he comes home from work. I have listened for many years and I have heard some of the same things over and over again. I heard about how tired he was, which made him grouchy and hard to live with at times. I heard that this fellow worker got hurt or that one had a heart attack. The day that woke me up to the tragic lack of safety in the railroad industry was the day a friend of ours went to work and never returned to his wife and family. He was killed. Many factors caused the accident.
Through the investigation, I began to hear some of the things my husband had been telling me about for years and that is when I took up the fight. Being a locomotive engineer had to become safer. Not many other occupations were as dangerous as this one. I began to think that this could happen to any engineer, so I started listening more intently. I realized that there was something that could be done. One day when I was visiting my state capitol, I noticed a bench on the stairway to the front door. On the back of the bench was an inscription: “There is a time to cry and a time to fight.” I began to fight back.
The railroads have been operating for the past 100 years on the same premise. If they could avoid putting in some safety device, then they would in order to save money. They still operate that way today. The railroads can’t do something as simple as turn the leading locomotive so that the cab is in the front of the engine. This simple act could help the engineer and conductor see the track ahead clearly and stop the diesel fumes from blowing into the cab of the engine, but this is the way railroads have been run for over 100 years. We can’t give crews enough advance warning regarding when they will go to work so they can be rested because this is the way railroads have been run for over 100 years. The railroad gives the same response to all of the safety problems. Whether it is cab temperature, work rest cycles, clean toilets – whatever the issue – you get the same response from the railroad industry.
I guess I just don’t want another family to be faced with their spouse not returning home in one piece or worse yet never coming home again. Is this too much to ask? Or is the answer yet again: this is the way railroads have been run for over 100 years. I feel that we can make a difference. This is why I joined the GIA and this is what keeps me going. We may not be able to change the laws in a few years. If many GIA voices are heard together, maybe someone will hear us and make the necessary changes and the railroad won’t get away with saying: “This is the way railroads have been run for over one hundred years,” and things will finally begin to change.