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


Amtrak 188 wreck engineer cleared of criminal charges

Judge Thomas Gehret dismissed all charges against Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian, who was blamed in the train derailment that killed eight people and injured hundreds near Philadelphia in 2015. Judge Gehret called the crash “more likely an accident than criminal negligence” in dismissing the charges. The train was traveling at a speed near 106 mph while heading into a curve when the accident happened.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office at first refused to pursue a criminal case against him. “We have no evidence that the engineer acted with criminal ‘intent’ or criminal ‘knowledge,’ ” the DA said in a statement at the time. “Nor do we believe there is sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, criminal recklessness. Pennsylvania law specially states that one acts with criminal recklessness when a person ‘consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.’ We do not have evidence sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the engineer ‘consciously’ disregarded the risk.’’

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Bostian lost track of where 188 was because he was distracted by an incident with a nearby SEPTA commuter train. The NTSB found no evidence that Bostian was impaired or using a cellphone


Teamsters Offer Disaster Relief assistance to members in Florida and Texas

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is offering assistance to those members living in Florida and Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Irma damaged homes and property over the last several weeks.

If you live in an affected area and need assistance, please go to the BLET website to download “Request for help” forms and to check which counties are eligible to apply. For questions, contact the Teamsters Disaster Relief Fund office at (202) 624-8971.


Operation Lifesaver introduces Rail Safety Week – September 24-30, 2017

Washington, D.C. (September 13, 2017) – As the first U.S. Rail Safety Week (RSW), September 24-30, approaches, Operation Lifesaver President and CEO Bonnie Murphy previewed the event’s planned activities, key sponsors, and information on how potential participants can learn more. The goal of RSW is to raise awareness for pedestrians and drivers on ways they can keep themselves safe around railroad tracks and at highway-rail grade crossings.

Preliminary government data for 2016 show 1,104 people were killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions, and that an additional 980 people were injured or killed while walking on or near railroad tracks.

“We are grateful for the positive response from our rail safety partners across the U.S. as activities for Rail Safety Week have been planned,” said Murphy. “We look forward to a successful RSW, with the help of our partners in law enforcement, federal, state and local government, the rail industry, and other community safety advocates.”

Rail Safety Week will include radio and digital public service advertising campaigns, along with a number of local activities in states across the country, Murphy said. Rail Safety Week is supported by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), state Operation Lifesaver programs, the Association of American Railroads (AAR), freight railroads, Amtrak, and other safety partners.


NTSB Wants All Transit Vehicles Equipped with Inward & Outward Facing Cameras

(NTSB Press Release 8-31-2017)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued three safety recommendations Thursday, calling upon the industry to install crash-resistant inward- and outward-facing cameras in all rail transit vehicles, saying the cameras would greatly aid in crash investigations.

The recommendations, issued to the Federal Transit Administration and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, call for recorders with a minimum of 12-hour continuous-recording capability that can verify crew actions and train operating conditions. The NTSB says the recorders must be easily accessible to review, with appropriate limitations on public release, for accident investigation, and as a tool to improve operational safety.

“These devices, which are becoming cheaper and more reliable, are critical tools in our investigations,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “In 47 of the 64 rail transit accidents the NTSB investigated between 1976 and 2015, audio and image recorders would have greatly helped in learning what happened by documenting and preserving data describing the actions and conditions leading to an accident.”

The NTSB is currently investigating a Feb. 21, 2017 accident in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, where a SEPTA train collided with the rear of a second SEPTA train stopped on a loop track near the 69th Street station. The train was not equipped with forward-facing cameras nor audio or image recorders in the operating cab. In a post-accident interview, the operator of the striking train said he could not remember his actions immediately prior to the collision. The NTSB-recommended recorders would have documented the operator’s actions, providing investigators valuable insights as to how and why the crash happened.


BLET Announces New Benefits to Members

(BLET Newsflash September 6, 2017)

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, September 6 — BLET today announced the availability of three new, optional, member-owned benefits available to all active BLET members. These benefits include Universal Life Insurance with Long-Term Care (LTC) benefits underwritten by Trustmark Insurance Company as well as Group Accident Insurance and Group Critical Illness Insurance underwritten by Aflac. These new insurance offerings are intended to help members build financial protection for their families through affordable voluntary benefits.

Active BLET members can enroll in the Universal Life Insurance with Long Term Care benefits at any time, and there are only two simple medical questions to answer.

Active BLET members can also enroll in the Group Accident, and Group Critical Illness plans with Aflac during the open enrollment, which is open now through December 14, 2017. Those who enroll during the open enrollment cannot be declined and are guaranteed issue with no health questions asked.

These benefits will be administered and serviced by Cornerstone Benefits Management of Lake Barrington, Ill. Active BLET members are advised to be on the lookout for an informational packet being mailed to them at their home address, and all members are encouraged to call Cornerstone at (847) 387-3555 to ask questions or to enroll.

“The BLET is committed to offering our members the very best benefits available in the industry,” BLET National President Dennis Pierce said. “Whether the need is to offset out of pocket costs associated with major medical bills, pay off current bills and debt, cover funeral expenses, send children to college, or use living benefits for long-term care, these new benefits will serve to provide our members with options that will give them with greater peace of mind and financial stability.”


Missouri Right to Work Repeal Referendum

In February, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed into law a Right To Work bill without the voice of the people of the state being heard. The “Show Me” state has been fighting back ever since. They want a repeal referendum put on the ballot in November 2018. To have that opportunity, supporters of the referendum needed to collect 107,510 signatures in six of the eight congressional districts. In August, crowds gathered at the state capital as representatives delivered 163 boxes filled with 57,277 pages of names. A total of 310,567 signatures was collected, by far passing what was required.

“We’ve come together and put in countless hours gathering signatures from voters at festivals, community events, door-to-door canvasses, parades—you name it,” said Bobby Dicken, an electrician from Butler County. “These folks who’ve signed the petition want their voices to be heard—they want voters—not politicians—to make the final decision on whether so-called right to work becomes law in Missouri.”

“I think the people have spoken and they are not all union people. This is democracy in action,” said Rep. Doug Beck, D-Affton, who is a union pipefitter.

“Working families have to remain vigilant in the fight to protect workers’ right to bargain collectively. Gov. Greitens should consider himself on notice when it comes to unions and protecting the middle class. The fight has only just begun,” said Philip Gruber, General Vice President of the Machinists’ Midwest territory.


National Transportation Safety Board Swears In New Chairman

Robert L. Sumwalt III was sworn in on August 10, 2017, as the new chairman of the NTSB.  Sumwalt’s nomination came from President Trump and was confirmed by the Senate on August 3, 2017.  Sumwalt has been serving as acting chairman since March.

“The NTSB is commemorating 50 years of making transportation safer yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and I am humbled and honored to have the privilege of guiding the dedicated men and women of the NTSB as we take on the challenges of transportation safety in the 21st Century,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “Transportation technologies continue to advance, and the NTSB must continue to increase the breadth and depth of our knowledge and understanding of transportation innovations such as autonomous vehicles, intelligent infrastructure, commercial space transportation, hyper-speed rail, solar-powered planes, and new recording technologies. That knowledge enables us to craft safety recommendations that leverage technology to prevent accidents and save lives.”

Before joining the NTSB in 2006, Sumwalt was a pilot for 32 years.