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.

Tank Car Ruling

On May 1, the Department of Transportation announced new rules for tank cars hauling flammable liquids. Included in these new regulations are enhanced building standards for tank cars as well as an upgraded electro-pneumatic braking system that deploys faster than the air brakes that are currently used on freight trains. In addition, trains with 35 or more cars of flammable liquid will be required to use a second locomotive to help with braking. As a result of the aggressive, risk-based approach, the final rule will require replacing the entire fleet of DOT-111 tank cars for Packing Group I, which covers most crude shipped by rail, within three years and all non-jacketed CPC-1232s, in the same service, within approximately five years. The new tank car rules were announced in Washington by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Canadian counterpart, Lisa Raitt. The two countries consider this a joint effort to improve the safety of crude by rail as these trains move across the continent.

Amtrak to Heighten Safety Measures Following May 12th Derailment

The FRA has ordered Amtrak to take immediate action to improve safety in the Northeast Corridor, where the May 12th derailment that killed eight people took place. Amtrak stated that it would have an Automatic Train Control (ATC) system in place on the curve in Philadelphia where the May 12th derailment occurred before that section of track is reopened to the public. Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman stated, “That the accident would not have happened if the braking system had been in service on the northbound track.” ATC was in place on the southbound track, but had not been installed on the northbound section where the derailment occurred. It is reported the train had reached a speed of 102 mph when it left the track.

Amtrak has also announced that it will be installing inward-facing video cameras to record the actions of the engineer. Initially, 70 cameras will be installed in locomotives in Amtrak’s most traveled corridor, which services trains between Washington D.C. and Boston, as well as New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. While inward-facing cameras, if they are crashworthy and can withstand the impact of a derailment, may help in reconstructing what happened to cause the derailment, they are not a solution in the effort to prevent potential derailments of either Amtrak or freight trains and, in fact, may be considered an invasion of privacy in many circumstances.

Despite speculation of many sources and news stories, the probable cause of the Amtrak derailment has not been determined and it could take up to twelve months for the National Transportation Safety Board to complete its investigation and issue a report.

Support for our Brothers and Sisters in Missouri

Another state is being threatened with the so-called “right to work” law. As we wait to hear what Missouri Governor Nixon will do, we encourage all union members, friends, and family in the “Show Me” state to pick up the phone and let their voices be heard. If you live in Missouri, now is the time to please call the Governor’s office, (573) 751-3222, and let them know that you support his veto of HB 116. Right to work is all wrong for our unions, our workers, businesses, and our economy!

States calling for two-person crew legislation

While HR 1763 has been introduced into the 114th Congress to protect two-person crews nationally, some states are fighting individually at home to mandate laws in their areas at a hopefully faster rate than perhaps what Congress may be able to do. Nebraska and California have been hard at work trying to protect the movement of freight by rail by keeping the conductor and engineer in the cab of all locomotives. Safety is the biggest concern and, while technology like Positive Train Control may help cut down on the amount of certain types of accidents that occur, it will not replace the safety of having the vital second individual on the train.

Recently in Nebraska, Resolution LR338 was adopted by a 36-4 vote. LR338 states: “That the Legislature urges the Federal Railroad Administration to adopt a rule requiring a train crew of at least two individuals whenever a train or light engine is used in connection with the movement of freight.”

In an article that appeared in the Journal Star newspaper on May 28, 2015, BLET Nebraska State Legislative Chairman Pat Pfeifer was quoted as saying: “The more critical issue is what happens when a train derails or breaks down. . . . It’s about public safety, it’s not about jobs.” Brother Pfeifer has every right to be concerned. Nebraska has two of the nation’s largest railroads running through it daily and the largest rail yard in the nation, located in North Platte. With the BNSF and Union Pacific hauling hazardous material through the heartland, the safety of the public and the safety of the crews in these locomotives have to be at the forefront.

Meanwhile in California, Brothers Tim Smith and Ryan Snow are fighting their own two-person crew battle in the California Senate with their introduction of SB 730. “SB 730 would prohibit, on and after February 1, 2016, a train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight, as specified, from being operated unless it has a crew consisting of at least two individuals. The bill would authorize the Public Utilities Commission to assess civil penalties against any person who willfully violates this provision.”

To date, SB 730 has passed on the Senate floor by a vote of 22 for, 11 against, and 7 non-votes. Brother Smith reports that they also have gotten a Republican vote, making the bill bipartisan. SB 730 is now headed to the California Assembly. California is also home to the BNSF and Union Pacific railroads and transports approximately 50% of the nation’s seaborne cargo arriving from ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Oakland.

Positive Train Control

Positive train control (PTC) is a technological safety net that is designed to enforce track movement authority, prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, unauthorized trains into areas of track where maintenance is taking place, and movement of a train over a track switch left in the wrong position. In short, PTC saves lives… the lives of the public and the lives of the crew members aboard the train.

The federally mandated deadline for implementation of PTC is December 31, 2015; however, legislation has been proposed for Congress to extend that deadline through the passing of S. 650, the Railroad Safety and Positive Train Control Extension Act. This bill would extend the current deadline to December 2020 with the possibility of an additional two-year extension until December 2022.

An article recently published in the March-April 2015 edition of the Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen News states: “Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said the Obama administration is opposed to extending the PTC implementation deadline, testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in early February that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to ‘hold the industry’s feet to the fire’ in getting PTC done as quickly as possible, as opposed to allowing a blanket extension. In spite of that of that, certain railroads have convinced their ‘friends’ in Congress to propose just that.”

As stated by BLET National Vice President and National Legislative Representative John Tolman, “Each death caused by the delay of PTC implementation is one too many, and Congress capitulating to the railroads for this broad extension is most certainly not in the public interest.”

Now is the time to contact your Senators and let them know that you are strongly opposed to S.650. The following link will take you directly to a listing by state of Senators in your area to contact. Let your voice be heard!