April/May 2017 Legislative Report

By Kathleen Bisbikis, National 2nd Vice President, National Legislative Rep, BLET Auxiliary

Below are some of the most recent news items that affect all of us. Please feel free to share these with your local auxiliary. If you have information you would like to share with me for future updates, please send it to me at bletauxilliarylr@gmail.com.

Amtrak Engineer in Philadelphia derailment to face criminal charges

Brandon Bostian, the engineer of the Amtrak Train 188 that derailed in Philadelphia in May 2015, killing eight people and injuring 200-plus, is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter as well as reckless endangerment.

It was initially believed that no criminal charges would be brought against Bostian; however, in a change of events, Philadelphia Judge Marsha Neifield, at the urging of the victims’ families, ordered the district attorney’s office to file charges against the engineer. The DA’s office had previously issued a statement saying that they would not be charging Bostian with criminal charges because they found no evidence of criminal intent. To avoid a conflict of interest, the district attorney’s office referred the case to the state’s attorney general, who then filed the criminal charges.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the derailment was caused by human error and that the engineer was distracted. No evidence of drug or alcohol use was found, nor was there any improper use of personal electronic devices by Bostian. The charges filed against Mr. Bostian were made just hours before the statute of limitations were set to expire.

Ohio Senate busy with 3 Railroad safety bills

Ohio is leading the way to make railroads a safer place for employees and the communities in which they operate. Three separate pieces of legislation, led by state senators Kenny Yuko and Michale Skindell, will be heard May 4, 2017, at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Ohio SB 74 is the Two-Person Crew Bill requiring a minimum of two crew members on freight trains operating in the state of Ohio, this is led by Michele Lepore-Hagan, the wife of BLET’s Political and Legislative Director Bob Hagan. Ohio SB 89 requires standardized lighting in all rail yards and would mandate a penalty to any railroad not in compliance. Lastly, Ohio SB 90 would require standardized walkways in rail yards, and railroads not in compliance would be fined for violations.

Members in the State of Ohio are urged to contact their state representatives to ask that they support these three critical pieces of legislation. You can locate your Senator using the following link: http://ohiosenate.gov/members/senate-directory.

Nevada is up to bat in the Two-Person Crew battle S.B 427

Nevada State Senator Mark Manendo is the sponsor of S.B. 427, the Two-Person Crew Bill. The bill would require a minimum of two people operating freight trains across the state of Nevada. On May 2, 2017, Brother Matthew Parker, State Legislative Chairman for the State of Nevada, as to safety concerns that make a two-person crew necessary, stated: “The desire to pursue single-person operations of freight trains clearly represents placing cost reduction and profits ahead of responsibility for ensuring that movement of cargo by rail through the communities of Nevada occurs in the safest possible manner.”

Nevada previously had a crew size bill, but that law was repealed in 1985. Members who live in the state of Nevada are urged to contact their senators to ask them to support S.B 427. https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/Legislator/A/Senate/

Labor Unions Work together to halt CSX proposal to remove signals

The BLET, in a group effort with the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, as well as private citizens in the proposed area of Michigan, were successful in their fight to stop CSX Transportation in its push to discontinue the use of track signals along the portion of track between Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Detroit, Michigan, the three largest cities in the state. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in a letter dated March 7, 2017, stated that removal of the signals “would not be in the public interest or consistent with railroad safety.” Additionally, the FRA said that the labor unions noted that “Congress has mandated that the FRA utilize the highest degree of safety in the issuance of its safety rules. That standard cannot be met if this Block Signal Application is granted.” The FRA also noted that “the discontinuance of the signal system bypasses broken rail protection, switch point alignment detection, eliminates train separation protection and identifying train locations. These factors coupled with the level of hazardous materials moving on this line and the trains that meet and pass as well, do not support the safety of discontinuing the TCS and removing the signals from this area.”

AHCA Will Hurt Working Families

(This article was originally published May 4, 2017, on the Teamsters.org/news website.)

(WASHINGTON) –The Teamsters Union opposes the American Health Care Act (AHCA) which was passed by the House of Representatives today. The legislation’s wholesale changes to the current system leave working families footing the bill for corporate tax breaks while paving a path to the elimination of even basic health care for the millions of American families that need it the most, in the end taking away health care from 23 million people.

The AHCA attacks working families who receive high-quality health care plans from their employers through a 40 percent excise tax. This “Cadillac Tax” penalizes middle-class workers who have fought long and hard for the strong health care plans they receive.

“The American Health Care Act is a flawed piece of legislation that should never be made into law,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “It not only includes this destructive Cadillac Tax that targets working families, but it also allows insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and charge older Americans up to five times higher premiums than younger plan holders.

“Instead of finding new ways to enrich health care providers, Congress should be working to ensure that this country provides affordable health care coverage for every American regardless of their pre-existing conditions. The AHCA will lead to only one result – higher costs for lower quality care for fewer Americans.”

Vice President John Tolman delivers testimony in Washington D.C.

On April 26, 2017, BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman testified at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials regarding many important issues, including infrastructure, worker fatigue and rail safety regulations. Vice President Tolman said, “The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has a long history of being bipartisan for the safety and good of the traveling public and our nation’s economy. Let’s get the transportation system moving into the 21st Century … let’s buy American products … let’s put tens of thousands of unemployed Americans back to work … and let’s build the transportation infrastructure that will equal what our forefathers created.” Vice President Tolman also addressed PTC and fatigue: “Technology can help with the problem, but technologies such as Positive Train Control (PTC) alone will not solve the problem,” he said. “Further, PTC has not been designed to be an answer to overworked train crews who toil around the clock with unpredictable on-duty times. Crews on freight trains rarely go to work at the same time on any two days in a row. Despite not having any routine work/rest cycles in their daily lives, railroad workers also face a never-ending push by the nation’s rail carriers to work longer hours and be away from home for longer periods of time or face the risk of being dismissed.”

Take a moment and go online to read the full testimony of Vice President John Tolman at www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/Tolman_Infrastructure.PDF. It’s an excellent example of our union at work trying to protect our families as well as fight to make their members’ jobs safer and get more money put back into the country’s infrastructure, which is a large part of what our country was built on.

Texas High-Speed Rail fight continues

The battle continues in the State of Texas over the plans for a high-speed rail operation that would provide residents a means of transportation between the cities of Dallas and Houston. The Texas bullet train would travel at speeds of up to 205 miles per hour and take only 90 minutes between cities. However, Central Texas, the company building the bullet line, has been met with even more legislation that would delay if not end their attempts at helping a very automobile congested area of Texas. A total of five bills aiming to stop or hinder construction have been filed in the current session. Collectively, the bills would prevent lawmakers from allocating any state funds to the controversial project, require Texas Central Partners to build the line in a way that would allow multiple types of trains to run on it, and force the company to offer land acquired for the project back to the previous property owners if the project doesn’t come to fruition. Senators opposed to the bullet train, as well as a group of landowners that would be affected by the building of the train, claim that the proposed legislation is just an effort to protect taxpayers as well as landowners. “They offer sensible regulation,” said Ben Leman, Chairman of Texans against High-Speed Rail. One of the biggest causes of concern for land owners is the Texas Central’s use of eminent domain to acquire property needed for the project. “When anybody takes your land, that’s a high order,” said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

Neighboring Fort Worth has its own plans for high-speed rail. As lawmakers argue over the Houston to Dallas project, the Fort Worth City Council is on board to create their own high speed rail between Dallas and Fort Worth: a forty-mile rail line that would connect the two cities with a bullet train that would run at an estimated 70-125 miles per hour. They are currently awaiting an environmental impact study that is expected to be completed by 2018. There is no estimated cost at this time for the Fort Worth train, but it is clear that Texas wants and sees the need for an alternative form of transportation to get cars off congested highways.

Oregon HB 2131 Safety bill

Oregon legislators are taking the matter of oil trains into their own hands with the introduction of HB 2131 “The Community Protection and Preparedness Act.” This bipartisan bill would require contingency planning by railroads, impose fees to build up the state’s oil spill emergency fund, and require railroads to show they can pay for a worst-case spill. HB 2131 would also provide grants to communities along rail lines where oil trains run to help them prepare and protect themselves in the case of a derailment. Also, the bill proposes to fine railroads an annual fee of $1500 for each outdated oil tank car still in use, and, in the case of a severe oil train derailment, the bill would provide money for emergency response and clean up.

The Pacific Northwest fears that with potential for new and enlarged terminals, the increase in oil handling capabilities by rail could increase in that region substantially. HB 2131 is the State of Oregon’s answer to making sure they are ready for the potential growth, and that its communities along the track are trained and prepared to handle a situation should it arise. Oregon does not want to see another derailment like that of the Union Pacific train that derailed in 2016 in Mosier, Oregon, and polluted the Columbia River or, worse, the Quebec derailment in 2013 that left 47 people dead and property and homes destroyed.

H.R. 233 the Safe Freight Act 2017 – have you shown your support?

On January 3, 2017, Congressman Don Young from Alaska re-introduced the Safe Freight Act of 2017 (H.R. 233). This legislation would mandate a two-person crew on all freight trains—a certified engineer and a certified conductor.

BLET members, both active and retired, as well as auxiliary members, are urged to contact their House representatives and ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 233. Members can reach the U. S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to the representative from your congressional district. You can also go online at http://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep, enter your zip code, and your representative’s information will be provided.

The Safe Freight Act affects all of us in the railroad industry, whether we are the employee or the family member at home. It’s a bill about safety, not just for the communities that these trains travel through, but also for the men and women who are in the cabs of the locomotives, and for the peace of mind for those of us at home worried about things that we cannot control while our loved ones are at work. One person on a train is not enough, and no amount of propaganda that the carriers or the government are willing to try to sell us will ever make up for the second person sitting in the cab should an emergency arise. We need co-sponsors for this bill. When the bill was introduced in 2016, 69 congressmen co-sponsored it; we need more in 2017. How do we get there? We all need to step up and stop expecting someone else to do what we need to do ourselves. Pick up the phone, write a letter, go to your computer and electronically make your voice heard. However, you choose to do it, get it done. Let’s show Congress that we know what the words solidarity and strength mean by deafening our representatives with our voices in support of this bill that is not just important, it’s imperative!

In a newsflash on the BLET website, National President Dennis R. Pierce said: “In spite of what the railroads might say, technology has not advanced to the point that it can replace the eyes and ears of railroad professionals. Please do your part as the job you save may be your own.”