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Legislative Update April 2007

LIMBO TIME HAS BECOME A MAJOR ISSUE – SEIZE THE MOMENT AND CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSMEN NOW DURING EASTER RECESS!

All Auxiliary and BLET members are encouraged to contact their members of Congress during the Easter recess (the Senate reconvenes on April 10 and the House reconvenes on April 16) to urge them to include provisions to eliminate limbo time in any rail safety legislation that is introduced in the coming months.

Explain to your congressman that limbo time is a term used to describe the time that train crews are left on the train because the railroad has not provided transportation to the terminal. Let them know that train crews are fatigued and waiting endless hours on a train for transportation after already working the maximum 12 hours (mandated by the Hours of Service Act) only aggravates this dangerous situation.

This situation has escalated dramatically in the last few years. The BLET has data from one Class I railroad showing that nearly 335,000 crews had work tours in excess of 14 hours during the years 2001 through 2006. This is an average of over 150 crews exceeding the Hours of Service by two hours every day for six years. However, during the past three years, the average is over 205 crews per day. During that same period, an average of about 94 crews per day had work tours longer than 15 hours.

Auxiliary and BLET members should share the statistical information provided here and on the BLET website (see below) when contacting their members of Congress. More importantly, members should share their first-hand experiences with fatigue and limbo time with their Senators and Representative. Citing statistics is good, but first-hand accounts have much more impact.

We encourage you to make appointments to visit your member of Congress about the “limbo time” issue during their time in District. While there is currently no specific “limbo time” bill in the House or Senate, members should make their Senators and Representative aware of the problem and should ask them to include the issue in any rail safety legislation introduced in the future. If you cannot make a personal visit, at least call, write, or e-mail your congressman.

In your communication, you may also reference the testimony delivered by the BLET before a Congressional hearing earlier this year. On February 13, 2007, BLET Director of Regulatory Affairs Tom Pontolillo testified before the House Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads regarding fatigue in the railroad industry. For more information and a copy of Brother Pontolillo’s testimony, go to http://www.bletdc.org/legislation/testimony/.

To find your representative, go to:  http://www.bletdc.org/action/congress/ .

Employee Free Choice Act

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) introduced the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800/S. 1041) in the Senate on March 29, 2007. Right-wing front groups are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads in an attempt to mislead the American public about this legislation. Urge your senators to restore a level playing field for workers and employers and restore our nation’s middle class by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. To find out if your senator is a already a co-sponsor of this bill, go to:

http://www.aflcio.org/joinaunion/voiceatwork/efca/cosponsors_110.cfm

Amtrak

On March 28, Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman attended a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development regarding the FY 2008 budgets for the FRA and Amtrak. The Bush Administration’s budget has proposed only $900 million for Amtrak for FY 2008, not nearly enough to keep it functioning. Congressman John W. Olver, (D-MA) criticized the Bush administration’s proposed funds for Amtrak, saying the president “would allow Amtrak to wither on the vine.” The subcommittee heard from Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Alex Kummant and Federal Railroad Administration chief Joseph H. Boardman, both of whom said that while Amtrak has made improvements, greater funding is still needed. Mr. Olver expressed his hope not only for sufficient funds for Amtrak to keep current rails running and begin fixing the backlog of problems on the Northeast Corridor, but also enough to begin the first stages of implementing a high-speed intercity rail system in several corridors nationwide. He went on to say, “With the current budgetary climate in the United States, we could never invest the capital needed to build the types of dedicated intercity high-speed rail systems found in the rest of the world.” But, he said, a little overspending now on modest track improvement would make the major track improvements that would be required to make the switch to high-speed trains much easier and less expensive in the future.

Railroad Retirement

Railroad retirement benefits are subject to reduction if an employee with less than 30 years’ service retires before reaching full retirement age. Railroad employees are eligible to retire at age 62; however, the age at which full retirement benefits are payable has gradually been increasing since the year 2000, the same as Social Security. Full retirement age, the earliest age at which a person can begin receiving railroad retirement or social security benefits without any reduction for early retirement, ranges from age 65 for those born before 1938, to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. For more information about railroad retirement annuities and eligibility requirements, go to the Railroad Retirement Board’s website atwww.rrb.gov or call the automated toll-free Help Line at 1-800-808-0772 to find the address and phone number of the Railroad Retirement Board office serving your area.

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