Legislative Update August 2015

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE AUGUST 2015

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.

PEB 248 in NJT Dispute

On July 15, 2015, President Obama signed an executive order creating a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to investigate and help resolve the ongoing dispute between the New Jersey Transit Rail and the New Jersey Transit Rail Coalition, representing the entire unionized workforce on the commuter railroad. The emergency order goes into effect July 16, 2015, and the findings will be reported back to the president within a 30-day time frame.

President Obama stated: “The transit rail system is vital to our nation’s economy, and it’s crucial that we ensure it runs smoothly. That’s why I’m grateful these talented individuals have agreed to serve the American people by helping to swiftly and appropriately resolve these labor-management disputes.”

It should also be note that this is the first time in the 78-year history of the Presidential Emergency Board that it has ever been made up of all women. President Obama appointed Elizabeth C. Wesman to serve as the chairperson, Barbara Deinhardt and Ann Kenis. All three women have previous PEB experience.

The PEB conducted its hearing during the week of July 27, and its report is expected by mid-August.

FRA REMINDS RAILROADS TO REPORT CRUDE OIL TRANSPORT

On July 22, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sent a reminder to all railroads transporting Bakken crude oil that, in accordance with the Emergency Order issued May 7, 2014, they must make State Emergency Response Commissions and Tribal Emergency Response Commissions aware of the expected movement in states and tribal areas affected.

The Emergency order superficially states that trains carrying 1,000,000 gallons (approximately 35 cars) of Bakken crude oil in a single train through a state must notify the appropriate state or tribal commission. The FRA has stated, “it will continue with random spot checks and regular compliance audits to ensure that states, local communities, and first responders have the information necessary to respond to a possible accident. FRA will take enforcement actions as necessary to ensure compliance.”

ECP BRAKING SYSTEMS

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released information this month on a train braking simulation study, prompted by the amount of recent derailments of trains carrying flammable crude and ethanol.

The study compares the differences in safety of electronically controlled pneumatic brake systems (ECP) and that of distributed power braking systems, as well as conventional braking systems. The study showed that the ECP braking system outperformed both distributed and conventional braking systems.

“Over the last decade, the NTSB has investigated a number of catastrophic flammable liquid unit train derailments. Our recommendations have called for improved technologies that can reduce or minimize the risk of derailments,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart. “Improved braking capabilities are but one part of the equation in making rail transportation safer.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation ruled in May 2015 that all tank cars carrying flammable materials will need to be updated with ECP braking systems by January 2021.

GOP BILL COULD UNDERMINE RAIL SAFETY

Senator John Thune, R-SD, the Chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee introduced a bill this month that included provisions to further delay the deadline by which freight and commuter railroads must install positive train control.

The bill introduced would require railroads to have the equipment in place for PTC by December 31, 2018, but would have no set timeframe for the railroads to have the technology actively in use.

“It’s an attempt to fool the American people so that government officials and railroad officials can say something is being done when the reality is it isn’t,” former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said.

TEXAS HIGH SPEED RAIL 

It looks like California may not be the only state with high speed rail as a means of travel. Texas Central Partners, a private Texas-based company, has raised $75 million towards the $12 billion they project will be needed to construct and operate a high speed passenger rail system between Dallas and Houston, Texas. Once operating, the Texas bullet train will be estimated to travel at approximately 205 mph and will make travel between Dallas and Houston just a 90-minute trip.