BLET National VP/NLR John Tolman Testified at House Subcommittee Hearing Regarding Rail Safety
On February 26, BLET Vice President & National Legislative Representative John P. Tolman testified at a House subcommittee hearing, emphasizing the importance of timely implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), and other measures to boost rail safety and improve the quality of life for BLET members. The hearing was called by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. Vice President Tolman’s testimony touched on four main topics: Positive Train Control (PTC); two-person train crews; fatigue reduction; and inward-facing cameras. He explained that the positions of the railroads and the labor unions differ significantly on many, if not all, of these issues. He went on to say that the vision of the labor unions comes directly from the members who actually work on the railroads and that their first-hand experience makes them far more “uniquely positioned” to provide the information necessary to implement changes that would serve to make the industry safer.
Vice President Tolman spoke out against the railroads’ requested extension for implementation of Positive Train Control to 2020 rather than by the end of 2015, as mandated by the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA). He also urged the committee members to consider co-sponsoring the Safe Freight Act, H.R. 3040, a BLET-backed bill that would require a two-person train crew on all freight trains in the United States. With regard to the issue of fatigue reduction, Tolman stated that the intent of the RSIA was to reduce fatigue in the industry and that this should have been accomplished by mandating the railroads to provide their operating employees with predictable schedules, calling windows, and train lineups they can rely on so that they can plan their sleep accordingly. Lastly, with regard to inward-facing cameras, Vice President Tolman testified against requiring the installation of inward-facing cameras to monitor trains crews, stating that it is the BLET’s contention that the cameras are not a safety improvement; they would not prevent accidents and would likely have the opposite effect — providing a distraction that would make an engineer’s work environment less safe. Although the FRA has not yet issued a final rule on the use of inward-facing cameras, the installation of such cameras has already begun on several railroads (see below).
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce thanked Brother Tolman for representing the Brotherhood at the hearing. For a more detailed review of Brother Tolman’s testimony, please see the BLET News Release dated February 26, 2014, which can be found at http://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/newsflash.asp?id=5528.
Installation Begins on Inward-Facing Cab Cameras on Union Pacific Railway
Last month, Union Pacific (UP) joined Kansas City Southern and Metrolink in equipping locomotive cabs with inward-facing cameras. More than 5,000 UP locomotives will be equipped with inward-facing cab cameras, a process that is expected to continue through 2016. Initially, selected units also will be equipped with mobile device detectors.
Los Angeles commuter rail operator Metrolink was the first to install inward-facing cameras in 2009, following the 2008 collision of a Metrolink train and a Union Pacific train in southern California. Kansas City Southern began the installation of inward-facing cameras on its locomotives in the spring of 2013 and activated them in July after a judge ruled the dispute over their use to be a minor dispute rather than a major dispute under the Railway Labor Act.
According to UP, the decision to install the technology on their locomotives last month follows the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations made in 2008, involving the installation of inward- and outward-facing locomotive cab cameras. In January of this year, under pressure from Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the FRA began a rule-making process that could make the cameras mandatory. Outward-facing cameras, called Track Image Recorders (TIRs), have been installed on UP locomotives since 2005, providing an image of the track, crossings, and signals directly in front of the locomotive.
UP Vice President of Safety, Security, and Environment Bob Grimaila stated: “the use of recordings is restricted. It is intended to supplement, but not replace, other forms of existing security and safety measures, including individual employee and supervisor safety, safety training, and consistent application of the company’s rules and programs.” The railroad maintains that recordings will be used in the course of analysis, investigation, regulatory compliance and discovery related to safe work practices, and that the recordings will be treated as confidential, proprietary, and protected information. UP claims that the recording cameras will not record audio at this time, but will be used for video only, and will not have any view into private spaces, such as restrooms. The chain of custody protocols that already exist for workplace recording systems, such as the TIR retrieval process, will continue to be used, according to UP.
Train crews are being advised that tampering with an inward-facing cab camera could result in discipline up to and including dismissal.
Amtrak’s Key Infrastructure Projects for 2014
In a news release dated March 10, 2014, Amtrak outlined its infrastructure plans for 2014, which include continued installation of positive train control (PTC) safety technology, the start of major construction to upgrade Northeast Corridor high-speed rail, and expansion of station accessibility for passengers with disabilities.
This year, Amtrak will continue its “aggressive” program to install PTC on an additional 1,200 track miles beyond the 530 track miles where it is already in operation on some Amtrak-owned sections of the Northeast Corridor and all of its Michigan Line. Amtrak also is working to obtain the needed radio spectrum to transmit data critical to operating PTC systems in the new areas.
On the Northeast Corridor, the railroad will begin major construction work on a 23-mile section between Trenton and New Brunswick, New Jersey, to increase top train speeds to 160 mph from 135 mph and improve reliability on this heavily used section of track. The project will entail upgrading track and electrical and signal systems to support the higher speeds, as well as reconfiguring track switches at Penn Station in New York City to mitigate congestion.
Amtrak President and Chief Executive Joseph Boardman stated: “With limited federal capital funding we are doing the work that needs to be done to keep the railroad operating and taking action where we can to achieve safety, operational, and passenger travel improvements. However, to truly realize the mobility and economic benefits offered by passenger rail, there must be dedicated federal funding to support a multi-year planning and construction program.”
Operation Lifesaver National Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico
The BLET National Division is a sponsor of Operation Lifesaver’s 2014 National Leadership Conference, to be held May 14-15 at the Embassy Suites, 1000 Woodward Place NE, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This educational conference will provide Operation Lifesaver state program leaders, authorized volunteers, coaches, trainers, presenters, and other partners with the latest information and tools for reducing vehicle-train collisions and pedestrian rail trespass incidents. “See Tracks? Think Train!” is the theme of this event and is also the slogan of Operation Lifesaver’s upcoming public awareness campaign, to be launched this spring. Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo will be the keynote speaker at the conference.
A daylong session for Operation Lifesaver state coordinators will be held on May 13. Operation Lifesaver coaches and trainers will have a special training session on the morning of May 14. The Leadership Workshop starts at 1 p.m. on May 14 and concludes with a dinner on the evening of May 15. Operation Lifesaver’s mission is to end collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on rail property through a nationwide network of volunteers who work to educate people about rail safety.
For more information, and to register online, go to: http://oli.org/about-us/news/2014-Leadership-Conference.
Comparison of Railroad Retirement & Social Security Benefits
The Railroad Retirement Board recently posted a news release on their website comparing Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits, and providing a number of facts and figures about railroad retirement taxes and benefits, as well disability, survivor, and lump sum benefits paid to railroad employees. To read the entire news release, please go to: http://www.rrb.gov/opa/qa/pub_1403.asp.