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Legislative Update September 2007

S. 1889, the Railroad Safety Enhancement Act of 2007

The companion bill to the House rail safety bill, H.R. 2095, was filed in the Senate on July 26, by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).  There are a number of differences in the two bills, with the House bill being closer to providing requested relief and remedies on a number of issues that would create a safer working environment for railroaders.  Once both bills have passed their respective houses, they can then be reconciled in conference committee.  For a more in depth comparison, click on this link.  Rail Safety comparison.

Cross Border Trucking under NAFTA

The Cross-Border Trucking issue is top priority right now with the Teamsters, and should be top priority for us as well. It only makes sense that cross-border trucking will lead to cross-border trains in the not-too-distant future, and that’s something we definitely do not want!

On September 7, 2007, the U.S. Inspector General gave approval for a year-long pilot program allowing Transportes Olympic, a Mexican trucking company to operate throughout the U.S.  The program will also allow U.S. trucks to operate in Mexico.  As is par for the course for this administration, implementation of this program came under cover of darkness, immediately following the Inspector General’s approval.

Under NAFTA, Mexican trucking companies have been allowed to operate on U.S. roads for only a limited range in border cities like El Paso, Laredo, and San Diego since the late 90s. Under the demonstration project, however, Mexican trucking companies would be able to travel beyond the 25-mile commercial zone that runs along the Southern U.S. border. John H. Hill, Administrator of the agency overseeing the project maintains, “This long-awaited project will protect public safety on American highways as we work to both save consumers money and help our economy.” Do you smell what I smell… yet another example of corporate greed at the expense of the safety, security and jobs of all of our citizens?

Safety concerns have been well documented. Texas law restricts trucks and their cargo to no more than 80,000 pounds. In Mexico, trucks and their cargo can weigh up to 100,000 pounds, a limit that is sporadically enforced. Texas state inspectors have routinely found Mexican trucks on U.S. highways weighing more than 120,000 pounds, and once discovered a Mexican truck weighing over 130,000 pounds. Overweight trucks tear up our nation’s already stressed highways, and take much longer to stop once the brakes are applied, thereby adding to the 5,000 U.S. citizens killed and 100,000 injured due to truck-related accidents each year, as estimated by Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways. Mexican trucks are much older than trucks driven in the U.S. and are not required to have front brakes or Anti-Lock Braking Systems as are trucks in the U.S. (NAFTA: The Facts, CRASH document.)

There are other foreseeable problems as well. Opening the border will make our country even more susceptible to drug smuggling, smuggling of illegal immigrants, infiltration of terrorists, and more freight theft.

On September 11, an Amendment proposed by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to the FY 2008 Transportation – Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill passed by a 74-24 vote to stop the Bush Administration’s pilot program by removing program funding. The amendment stipulates that “None of the funds made available under this Act may be used to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico domiciled motor carrier to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”  The full Transportation Appropriations bill, which includes Amtrak funding for FY ’08, passed the Senate on September 12, by a vote of 88-7.  The White House has threatened to veto both the Senate and House bills, and while the Senate passed their bill by a “veto proof” margin, the House did not.

Many thanks to all of you who made calls to your Senators asking them to support the Dorgan Amendment.

Positive Train Control (PTC)

As reported last month, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a grant to continue development and testing of wireless communications devices and systems for use with Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) technology. CBTC is a form of Positive Train Control (PTC) that can automatically control train movements and speed to enhance safety when the locomotive engineer fails to take appropriate action.  Recently, a report from an engineer in California came through about a tour of duty where the engineer did very little to run the train.  With a couple of exceptions, computers ran the train, and he blew the whistle.  The future is here and we need to continue to be vigilant to insure that technology is not allowed to replace the eyes and ears of a crew member.  It is not in the public interest to reduce crew size any further, so we must demand that regardless of technology that can improve the safety our crew members, two person crews are as low as we can go!

Another Remote Control Fatality

RCO operations have taken another life. On August 30, 2007, a remote control operator at the BNSF Stockton Mormon Yard was crushed between the car he was riding and some equipment that was in the foul of the track he was on. Tim Smith, Chairman of the National Association of State Legislative Board Chairmen, stated in his announcement of this sad event on August 30: “Our condolences go out to the family and friends of this BNSF employee and Brother. When will the carriers learn that this flawed technology is unsafe and unproductive?  We have beaten that drum since its introduction…thus far, to no avail.”

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